Disclaimer: I’m not a physical therapist or a doctor or a trainer. I’m just your average citizen with an Internet connection. Special thanks to Brittany, Rheagan, and Allison, who pointed me in the direction of their own blog posts or strength/flexibility routines.
Recently, my IT band and I have been fighting. I tell I’m going for a run. It tells me it would rather go on a bike ride. I tell it to stop being such a big baby. It insists, in a very big way, that it is not a baby and that I should take it seriously.
Because I plan on doing an Ironman in August and because it reached a point where I was pretty debilitated, I decided I needed to get my IT band under control. So I turned to the Internet. Almost everything I read regarding IT band agreed on one thing—the root cause is weak hip and glute muscles. Still, I was a bit surprised because I had never had IT band issues before, despite running a lot in high school and college. However, a few more Internet searches taught me that it is common for cyclists to have unbalanced musculature where their quads are much stronger than their glutes and hamstrings. With all the cycling I’ve done the past couple of years, I suspect this is what happened to me.
So, I’ve been approaching IT band recovery from a few different angles.
First, I’ve been trying to limit my IT band irritation in my daily life. I noticed pretty quickly that things like crossing my legs and putting weird pressure on my knee when sitting irritate my IT band. So I’ve been trying to sit like a civilized adult, with my feet on the ground in front of me. I even lowered my chair at work because I felt the angle of my knees was better with the chair lower. This has been a huge struggle for me. I wiggle constantly, so not being able to cross my legs, pull my knee up under me, and just generally sit like a three-year-old during a two hour sermon has been an adjustment, to say the least. It’s taken a surprising amount of self-control to do this. Additionally, I have not worn any shoes with even the slightest heel. This isn’t much of a problem for me, although it did mean that I missed the last few weeks of boot weather because my boots have a short heel.
Secondly, I’ve drastically reduced the number of miles I’m running. I’ve been trying to “test” my knee out with shorter runs. So far, that process has gone fairly well. Half an hour seems to be fine. An hour is probably still too much as this point. It’s hard for me to know exactly how much pain is too much, but if the pain lasts after I’m done running, then I generally assume I did too much. I’m also being more conscientious about stretching and warming up before going out for a run. In fact, I’ve actually purchased a tennis ball and have begun to do the poor-man’s version of foam rolling with it. I’m hoping it will keep me running while I address the underlying issues.
Most importantly, I’ve been working on building up my hip and glute strength, which is most likely the root of my IT band pain. I’ve been taking advantage of the time before my official Ironman training program starts to focus on strength training for my hips and glutes. I’ve been doing a longer routine two times a week and a shorter routine two times a week. The longer routine takes me 30-40 minutes, while the shorter one takes me about 15 minutes. When my Ironman training starts, I’ll probably cut out one of the longer sessions because of time constraints.
3 x 10 single leg squat (each leg)
3 x 10 single leg deadlift (each leg)
3 x 20 alternating side lunges
2 x 10 standing hip abduction (each leg)
2 x 10 standing hip adduction (each leg)
20 hip thrusts (both legs and each leg)
2 x 20 leg lifts (each leg)
3 x 10 single leg squat (each leg)
20 leg lifts (each leg)
My longer routine is mostly body weight. However, I use five pound dumbbells for the single leg deadlifts and use a weight machine (with just a few pounds) for the standing hip abduction and adduction exercises. With the single leg squats and side lunges, I have to focus to make sure I’m working the correct muscles (my glutes as opposed to my quads). Using correct squat form (knees not extending past toes, for instance) ensures I’m using the correct muscles. The first few times, I paid attention to where I was feeling the burn and to which muscles were sore the next day. I’m confident that I’m (mostly) working the muscles I want to.
My abridged routine is much shorter (obviously!). I do some glute strength work, but the MYRTL routine focuses more on flexibility throughout the glutes and hips than strength. I was actually already familiar with a lot of the exercises from the MYRTL routine from when I was a hurdler, so I enjoy doing it.
(By the way, I’m not including images of me doing these exercises because you can find demonstrations of all these exercises with much better form with a simple Google search.)
This new strength work adds an extra hour and a half to my weekly load of workouts. Even with my current pre-Ironman load, that adds a lot to my plate. Last week, my time working out added up to eight and a half hours… and things aren’t even serious yet! I do plan on cutting out one of my longer sessions once Ironman training picks up, but the strength work will still add an extra hour of exercise on top of my 10-18 hour training weeks. However, I know that this kind of strength training is as important to my Ironman goal right now as cycling and swimming are, and it’s that understanding that is keeping me motivated to continue with my self-created IT band rehab, even though it’s not something that I enjoy.