This is hands down the best IT band rolling exercise! And no, it doesn’t use a foam roller.
I know lots of people play around with the whole foam roller/IT band torture.
I mean, whaat? You love it? Ok, cool! Carry on.
But I much prefer this version and think it’s the best IT band rolling exercise.
All you need are a pair of Yoga Tune balls or two tennis balls in a sock.
You can either head to the best way to roll your IT band tutorial right away or look at a couple of details first, whichever you prefer!
First off, if you feel like foam rolling your IT band is incredibly painful, you’re not alone. And I personally don’t think you need to put yourself through that! I’m not a fan of the whole no pain/no gain thing.
Rolling out your tissues, whether with a foam roller or with balls or sticks or any other tool, is a super effective strategy for waking up your nervous system and helping your brain to connect better with that body part. It gets more circulation happening, increases fluid movement within the tissues and increases your range of motion for about half an hour. You’ll see a little demo in the video that shows how the increased range of motion doesn’t just happen in your leg but can expand right up into your core!
Rolling is best done as a warm up before you move. It’s the combination of the two actions that really makes the difference. Putting so much pressure on the tissues that it hurts probably doesn’t add any extra value.
Second, your IT band is not a muscle.
The Iliotibial band, or tract, is a large, dense band of connective tissue that runs along the side of your leg from your hip to your knee. The (much smaller) muscle associated with it is called the tensor fasciae latae (no, not a fancy coffee drink, but close), and it’s also affected by the gluteus maximus at the top, which pulls on it in a more sideways angle, like pulling on a bowstring.
There are several perspectives on the primary function of the IT band, ranging from knee stability to lateral hip stability to energy storage/release to facilitate running. Check out this deep dive into iliotibial syndrome and what the IT band is and is not from Paul Ingraham at painscience.com.
If you’re an anatomy geek like me, check out this dissection video from Gil Hedley that shows you what an actual IT band looks like, how the fibres run, where the over- and under-lying muscles are. To be clear, this video is filmed at a fascial dissection and what you’ll see is the very respectful depiction of a cadaver. It’s not dramatic or messy, but be aware before you click the link that that’s what you’ll see.
If you’d rather not see the video, here’s a picture of the IT band. Just remember that it’s a dense layer of connective tissue that lies on top of and underneath muscle, is connected to muscle and your hip bone bone at the top, to muscle and your knee capsule at the bottom and is full of sensory organs that will tell you VERY clearly when they’re being squashed!
Now that you know more about this lovely stabilising, structurally important part of your body check out the video below for a gentler, more functional way to roll it. The goal is to offer more pliability and responsiveness, and as an added bonus you might see better range in your side bends, because it’s all connected!
Remember to stay in your comfort zone and try the fun core experiment!
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