How to Foam Roll Your IT Band: 5 Physio Tips
Here are my simple tricks that make rolling more comfortable and overall much more effective.
Firstly, if you’re a runner, foam rolling is a must. No excuses! Not only will it relieve tight muscles but it can also prevent common running injuries like ITB Syndrome and Runner’s Knee.
1. Roll next to the IT Band, not directly over it
This is one of the biggest mistakes I see people make when foam rolling. It’s understandable to think you need to roll directly over the ITB. In fact, many trainers and Physios tell people to do exactly that. But let me explain why that’s wrong…
The IT Band isn’t a muscle. It’s a long tendon that connects muscles to bone. This is key because tendons respond differently to foam rolling than muscles do.
For foam rolling to work, the tissue you’re rolling on must be active. Active tissues are simply tissues that have a direct connection to the brain. This means you can switch them on and off quickly on command. Whenever you want, you can tense or relax muscles just by thinking about them. On the other hand, you have no control over your IT Band. It acts passively, simply being pulled by the muscles around it.
Why does this matter? Because contrary to popular belief foam rolling doesn’t actually ‘roll out’ your tissues like bread dough. It’s almost impossible to make changes to tissues by rolling them. In fact, a published study showed that to stretch the IT Band just 1% you’d need over 2000 pounds of force. That just ain’t happening when you’re foam rolling.
So, when you’re foam rolling you aren’t physically stretching the tissue or breaking up knots. What you’re doing is applying pressure and sending messages to the brain to relax the tissue.
Think about a time when you had a sore muscle. Your instinct was to rub, squeeze or massage it, right? This is because applying pressure onto tight (or stressed) muscles tends to send a message to the brain that it’s okay to relax.
For this to work the tissue must have a connection to the brain. The IT Band does not. So, you’ll get much more benefit from foam rolling your quadriceps, hamstrings, and glutes. These three muscle groups connect to the IT Band and directly manipulate how it moves. By relaxing these muscles, you’ll relieve the tension surrounding the band and give it more freedom.
2. Stay calm and roll slow
People tend to rush foam rolling. They roll quickly up and down the muscle a few times then move on. Sure, rolling doesn’t feel nice and the sooner you finish the better. But the goal of foam rolling is to relax tense muscles and it’s difficult to let muscles relax when you’re moving quickly. Muscles naturally stay engaged and alert during rapid movement.
It also takes a bit of time for the muscle to response to the signal. If you’re too quick the muscle won’t have time to relax. So, slow down, stay calm and focus on what you’re doing.
3. Don’t apply too much pressure
Have you ever been to a masseuse who aggressively and relentlessly hammered into your muscles for an hour? You probably came out of that massage feeling worse than how you went in. Being too aggressive with the foam roller will leave you feeling the same.
More pain does not equal more gain. Remember, a foam roller can’t physically smooth out your knots so being too aggressive will only force your muscles to tense up even more. Good foam rolling, like good massage, applies slow and steady pressure. Give yourself time to relax and breathe.
People hold their breath when they’re in pain, it’s normal. But, it’s completely counter-productive to foam rolling. Holding your breath will prevent your body from relaxing.
If you find yourself holding your breath a good trick is to try talking while rolling. Hold a conversation with a friend nearby or count 30 Mississippi’s out-loud. It’s silly but it’ll help you breathe and ultimately be much more effective.
5. Focus on the sorest spots
Yup… the sorest spots. These are the areas that need it most. But, ease into it. Start by rolling the whole muscle top to bottom a few times then slowly hone into the sorer areas. These bits feel lumpy, knotted, and more sensitive. Do smaller, mini-rolls on these areas or stop completely, breathe and hold.
Stay in control of how much pressure (weight) you’re applying on the roller. If you’re new to rolling or your muscles are particularly sensitive support more of your bodyweight with your upper body, or spread out the pressure across both legs. Once you can tolerate more weight (without holding your breath or gritting your teeth) reduce your support and let your body sink into the roller.
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