Kick your ITBS to the curb

author : miamiamy
comments : 1

A first person account of how I stopped having IT band issues

My personal discovery of what my Iliotibial Band was and it’s very painful impact on my life probably happened in a similar way to many age group endurance athletes.

I can remember it like it was yesterday - even though it was 17 years ago. Most of the way through training for my first marathon on probably an 18 mile training run and all of a sudden with each step my right leg felt like it might wobble and give out.

I did the natural thing and asked my running group for advice when I finally wobbled to the finish. They said, that’s your IT band. The recommendations were foam rolling, a crazy stretch with me on my back and my legs crossed over with a towel.

Being a traditional medicine kind of gal disregarded all of that advice and headed to an orthopedic doctor who confirmed that nothing was broken and it was most likely an overuse injury. He put me on a huge dose of ibuprofen that they no longer use to treat IT band (or anything because it was crazy) and that got me through my first very slow marathon.

Even though I added foam rolling and stretching to my routine and regular visits to a physical therapist while I trained for my next two marathons this pattern repeated itself. When I got up into the higher mileage my IT band would flare up and training became close to impossible.

It stunk!

Finally after suffering through my third marathon filled with pain and anxiety (and notably no speed) I decided that I didn’t want to run any more marathons like that.

I could have given up marathons. But I didn’t. I’m not sure why other that endurance sports make me happy. Then that meant running marathons but now it means marathons and long course triathlons.

I am not a miracle worker. I’m not a doctor. I’m not even a personal trainer although it is a personal trainer who pointed me in the right direction. Very simply, I was working with a personal trainer to lose weight after having a baby. I mentioned to him that I had this continual problem when I got up in mileage for marathons. He wasn’t surprised at all. He told me that my glutes and core were weak and that I didn’t stretch enough and had tight hip flexors. All this lead to my body over relying on other muscles in those long runs and eventually my IT band couldn’t take it.

Running coach Jason Fitzgerald gives a better explanation than my memory. He says, “Your gluteus maximus and medius are the two major muscles that control the position of the pelvis and overall stability of the leg during the running stride. Weak hips also contribute to the pelvis “dropping” down on the non-stance leg.”

Now that I knew I had an issue what was I going to do about it?

I set out on a personal mission to see if I could do this right and learn how to keep my IT band from getting upset. Again, I’m not a personal trainer, a doctor or a physical therapist. This is just my personal experience. Also it’s important to say this isn’t a rehab routine this is how I keep it from happening again.

So what changed?

I use a dynamic warm up for maybe 2-3 minutes before my runs. I do this while my Garmin finds satellite. Super simple a set of lateral leg swings on each side and a set of vertical leg swings. If my watch is being super slow I’ll also do a little grapevine action in my driveway. The new word for grapevine is karaoke but I’m stuck in the 80s and it will always be grapevine to me. All this is to loosen my hips.

I don’t do a lot of strength training. But I am very consistent about doing it. I do 30 minutes 3 times a week. For a long time I worked with a personal trainer but now I just work out by myself. Squats, lunges, sit ups, push ups and planks are the core of my routine.

Now here’s what I think is the magic sauce.

At least twice a week I do a very quick routine called Myrtl that I found online. I have no idea why it’s called Myrtl. You can google it. It was developed by a guy named Coach Jay Abraham in Colorado. There is a youtube video. It’s leg lifts, clam shells, donkey whips and a few other things. It’s not hard - I literally don’t even break a sweat and I can actually feel my glutes begin to engage.

Apparently. our muscles are smart but also dumb. Even though you need your glutes to run if they aren’t trained to fire they will slack off on the job. But they will start working again when we tell them to. It turns out all you have to do to get your glutes to start working and take the load off of your other overused muscles is to use it more.

Once you know what it feels like to engage your glutes you can do it more easily while you’re running or otherwise. And the Myrtl routine does that. Seriously, try it. As you do the myrtl routine you’ll be like … ooh what’s that … oh that’s my glutes. Hmmm. And if your glutes are weak you will feel them fatigue and perhaps fail while you do these exercises. Failure is when you can’t do anymore or you have to rest before you go on. That’s when you’ll know you have work to do. But unlike almost everything in fitness - this is not hours and hours of sweaty hard work. It’s just isolating these specific muscles for a few minutes a week.

Cross training. When I switched from running to triathlon cross training with biking and swimming became a part of my routine. This has helped me become overall stronger but just adding swimming and biking isn’t an automatic fix. IT band issues seem to plague triathletes as much as it does dedicated runners.

I also have learned how to stretch my hip flexors. I will be honest I personally go to a chiropractor to help me with this. It keeps my hips aligned and happy. You may not need a chiropractor to help you. A lot of people have good luck with yoga or pilates. My chiropractor has taught me that when I can’t get to him I lie on my bed with my knees bent over the side. I hold one knee in tight to my chest and the other hanging down. I hold and then switch legs.

That’s it. I still live in fear of my IT band freezing up in high mileage. I am very cautious as I increase mileage. I’m nervous to even say this in writing for fear of angering the leg muscle spirits but I have not had an it band issue since 2006.

Good luck - I hope these suggestions help you.

I went ahead and wrote out the MYRTL steps for you if you’d like so you don’t have to memorize the video. Simply click here to get that little sheet.

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date: May 31, 2016

miamiamy