A fantastic exercise to really strengthen your ITB area is ‘Walt Reynolds’s ITB Special’. Walt’s ITB-saver is very easy to carry out. The only equipment you’ll need will be a wall or railing for support and some kind of elevation such as a bench or aerobic step (anything that provides four to 6 inches of elevation will be fine).
It’s worth noting that if your ITB syndrome is at its worst (i.e. just after a flare-up), we would advise you to wait a bit before you try Walt’s Special. Otherwise, the remedial exercise itself might exacerbate your flare-up.
Here’s how to perform the exercise. Stand on the aerobic step or bench with your involved leg (the ‘involved’ leg is the name given to the one with the ITBS problem), holding on to a rail or the wall with the opposite hand for support. You should ensure that your legs are straight as you do this.
Now the next step, with both knees ‘locked,’ is to lower the opposite, non-involved foot and hip a few inches toward the floor. The non-involved leg should between the involved leg and the wall you are using for support.
As you do so, the idea is that your involved hip will move upward, so that it is actually higher than the non-involved hip. Your involved hip should also move a bit in a lateral direction toward the outside, adding to the stretch. This ‘swivel-hip’ action is absolutely crucial to the exercise – and in fact is exactly what happens to the hips during the ‘stance’ phase of the gait cycle.
Next you need to attempt to shift most of your body weight to the inside part of the foot of the involved leg, so your weight is on the inside heel and ball of the foot. This simulates the natural pronation of the foot which occurs during the running process, and it also engages and puts tension on your tensor fascia lata and IT band, exactly as it would when you run. Make sure however that a fair amount of your body weight is directed through your heel, not just your toes.
You’ve now come to an extremely crucial part of the exercise. Bend your weight-supporting, involved knee slightly (about 10 to 20 degrees), but be sure to keep the non-involved foot off the floor. The next step is to move the involved hip forward about four to six inches, while keeping the involved heel in contact with the step and your weight on the inside of your involved foot. As you do this, all of the action should be at the hip not anywhere else! Your knee angle should stay about the same throughout the exercise, don’t try to rock forward at the knee – be sure to do it from the hip! As your involved hip moves forward, your upper body should move backward a bit.
Some key points:
- As your involved hip moves forward, make sure that it stays in a lateral position (if it’s our left hip, your left hip should be shifted to the left)
- Be certain to keep your involved hip higher than your non-involved hip
Now, after you’ve moved your hip forward, move it straight backward – making sure it goes back four to six inches beyond the straight-up, starting position. The total hip-movement distance in this exercise should be around eight to 12 inches, four to six inches toward the front and four to six inches back.
As your hip moves backward, your upper body will tend to bend forward. This action may seem strange to you, especially when you realise that in effect your hip is swinging back and forth over your foot in two different planes of motion:
- Front to back (the sagittal plane)
- And also sideways (the frontal plane)
Most runners envision the biomechanics of running quite differently – and tend to think that the key action during running is the swinging of the foot back and forth around the ‘anchor point’ of the hip.
In reality, the truth is that when the foot is on the ground, the foot is the anchor point, and the hip essentially rotates around the foot, not vice-versa. It’s this action which puts huge amount of stress on the IT band, and that’s why Walt Reynolds has designed this exercise to mimic the hip rotation involved in running and maximally strengthen and fortify your iliotibial bands. This is a superb exercise that really does emulate the biomechanics of running and yield results.
It’s the back-and-forth motion which occurs 85 to 90 times per minute at each hip when you run – and which can turn one of your iliotibial bands into an inflamed and extremely painful piece of damaged tissue.
As you do this exercise you should be able to feel an intense stretch – up toward the side of your hip. If you don’t feel anything happening, go back to the basic position and try again, as you certainly should feel a large amount of pulling and you’re probably doing it wrong.
Make sure that your involved hip ends up in a lateral position (pushed slightly outward away from your body) and higher than the other hip. Also ensure that your weight is shifted to the inside of the involved foot.
As your weight shifts to the inside of the foot and your hip moves laterally, your thigh is adducted, exactly as it is when you run, and your iliotibial band must work hard to control this adduction as your hip moves back and forth. It’s this control work that strengthens and stretches your IT band.
People who have never suffered from ITBS can also benefit from Walt’s Special. If you plan on ramping up for a major event such as a marathon – you can do 10-15 reps of this exercise three times a week to help you to avoid injury (as after all, the most common cause of ITBS is increasing your training volume and intensity too quickly).
Another key thing to remember is to balance your strength properly, do the same number of reps on each leg and don’t leave the unaffected leg out.
Walt’s excellent exercise will stop you having ITBS problems in the future. It will strengthen your iliotibial bands and enhance their ability to control the adduction and rotation of your thigh bones (femurs) during exercise – most notably running.