This past Sunday, a group of us decided that we needed to get out and get some fun exercise in. So we bundled up, heading up toward Mount Hood, grabbed some snowshoes, and hit a snowy trail. Talk about a great way to enjoy the winter months outside, with minimum cost and little experience required! I love getting outside whenever I can, and especially to go on trails and hikes. The fresh air, the beautiful scenery, and the nice workout that you get from it all, is great for the mind, body, and soul.
Also, did I mention what a great workout it is? Take your normal hiking trails, add snow and snowshoes, and you just amplified your intensity level. Phew! Now, all four of us live pretty active lifestyles, but boy did we all feel the 4 hour trek that we did! We all had our hip flexors and calves talking to us by the time we got back to our car and even the following day.
Now I have been really good about doing my morning stretches just about every day for just over a year now. My routine only takes me about 20 minutes to do, with a puppy climbing all over me to play and give me kisses. I know the great benefits to stretching and warming up your body, but we all fell prey to the weekend warrior mentality on Sunday. We did not properly stretch and warm up our muscles when we first got up to the mountain. I knew better, but got caught up in the excitement to start our hike over to the trailhead to start our snowshoeing adventure. As a result, we all felt our sore muscles more than we probably should have felt them.
Being a weekend warrior is not a bad thing. However, you need to properly take care of yourself before, during, and after your adventure. Trust me when I tell you that your body will thank you. Here are some tips that I have found to be helpful in making the most of your adventures and post adventure.
With spring just around the corner, getting outside and being more active is sure to follow. I know that I am looking forward to hiking more trails and discovering more waterfalls this spring and summer. Don’t let the outside activities and adventures leave your body so sore that you can’t enjoy the weekend. Take the time to take care of your body and properly stretch, hydrate, and fuel your body before, during, and after your fun filled day! Remember, getting outside and exercising should be fun, not painful.
After you work out or finished a nice long hike, you realize that the side of your thigh feels like it has a tight rope running down the side toward the knee. It may even be causing some strain or pulling on your knee. So you go and grab a foam roller to use. Are you guilty of trying to roll out your IT Band (Iliotibial Band or Tract)? I have seen this many times at gyms. The side of your upper leg and knees feel “tight” and may even cause you some pain, so you grab the trusty foam roller to roll over that area of your body to try to help alleviate it. Sounds like a good plan, right? Wrong. When you are trying to work out muscles, a foam roller can be a useful tool. However, it seems to be a very common misconception that the IT Band is a muscle too. Well, I am here to tell you that it is not a muscle, so trying to lengthen and stretch it will do you no good.
So what is the IT Band?
The IT Band is categorized as a deep fascia (pronounced “Fah-Shah”) of the body. This deep fascia is made almost exclusively of collagen fibers and fibroblast cells, which produce collagen. Collagen is the strongest protein found in nature and is extremely strong, tough, and avascular, making it the strongest structure in the entire human body. The IT Band starts up at the hip and runs laterally down the side of the leg to the knee. (Think where the seam of your pants is along the side of your thigh.) This long, tough band serves to help maintain stability of your hips and knees.
Why is it tight and what to do about it?
There are two main muscles that the IT Band actually derives from up in the hip region. The biggest one is the Gluteus Maximus. That’s right, your big butt muscle. The other muscle is a much smaller (about 3 finger width), and superficial, muscle called the Tensor Fasciea Latae (TFL), and attaches to the beginning of the IT Band, in front of the Gluteus Maximus muscle. When the Gluteus Maximus or TFL muscles are tight, they pull upward on your IT Band, giving you that tight and taught rope-like feeling along the side of your leg. It also may cause tension and pulling of the knee. So if you work on relaxing and stretching the Glutes and TFL, you will then relieve some of the tension you are feeling on the IT Band.
Another muscle that usually affects the IT Band is the Vastus Lateralis muscles, which is one of the quadriceps muscles. The IT Band runs right over the Vastus Lateralis Quadricep muscles. Often times, when I am working on clients with IT Band issues, after I finish working on their glutes and hip flexors, I will do some cross fiber friction along the IT Band and do some pulling and pushing away from the quads and hamstrings. I often find that the band feels stuck to these muscles, preventing the band to move freely as the hip and knees flex and extend. By breaking up any adhesions and freeing the IT Band from its surrounding muscles, especially closer to the knee, you can help alleviate pain and limited mobility as well.
In one of my many researches online, I did run across this video which I think is pretty helpful in regards to the IT Band. Check it out: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WvRy3JDkZi4&feature=youtu.be
I hope you now have a better understanding of what your IT Band is, and is not. I would like to thank my CrossFit coach for sharing his frustrations of seeing clients foam rolling their IT Bands after working out, and inspiring me to write a little blog about how ineffective it is. Next time you go to grab that foam roller for your tight IT Band issues, use it to work out your TFL and Gluteus Maximus muscles. Remember, foam rollers are great for muscles, not your IT Band. You will have a much greater effect and results by relaxing and stretching those muscles than on your fibrous band of connective tissues.
Courtney Truax, LMT is a graduate of East West College of the Healing Arts in Portland, Oregon. She is licensed through the Oregon Board of Massage Therapy and a member of the American Massage Therapy Association. She has her own studio massage practice in the heart of downtown Lake Oswego, Oregon.