Your best defense when running results in achy knees and severely tight muscles
Injury-Proof Your Run
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When warm weather arrives (finally!), even non-runners get inspired to take their cardio routine to the streets. It's certainly more fun than feeling like a hamster on a wheel, plus outdoor runs offer added challenges like wind resistance and uneven terrain. The only downside is that pavement can be tough on your joints and cause severely tight muscles.
If you experience pain or just feel "locked up" in and around your knees, your iliotibial band, or IT band, might be to blame. The IT band begins at the pelvis and runs on the outside part of the thigh all the way down to the shinbone. The muscles in your butt and hips attach to it, so even if you're feeling pain in your knee, it might be a symptom of weakness or tightness in the hips.
The best strategy for staying pain- and injury-free is a combination of strengthening the hips, stretching the IT bands, and foam rolling all the major muscles in your legs. It sounds like a lot of work, but by doing these six simple moves just twice a week, you'll notice a significant difference.
You'll need: An exercise band, a foam roller, and a mat (optional).
RELATED: 10 Ways to Use a Foam Roller
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Reps: 15 to 30 per side
Loop an exercise band just above knees. Lie on left side with feet and knees stacked, heels in line with spine.
Keeping feet pressed together, engage glutes and open top knee as far as possible. Make sure to keep hips aligned and facing forward (don't let that top hip roll open). Continue to open and close the knees at a moderate pace. If using a thick band, do 15 reps on each side per set. For thinner bands, double it to 30 reps per set.
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Reps: 20 per side
Keeping the band just above knees, stand with feet hip-width apart. Bend knees and shift hips as far back as possible. Bring arms back behind hips and lift chest. (Someone standing in front of you should be able to read the writing on your shirt—real or imaginary.)
Leading with right knee, take a small step out to the right, and then step left foot in return to starting position. Continue to take small steps to the right, constantly pushing hips back and knees out. Do 20 steps to the right and then repeat to the left. Do 3 sets each way.
Foam Rolling: Quads
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Lie on left side with the foam roller under left quad. Shift weight into hands and allow feet to lift off the ground. Roll along the IT band (side of the quad) from hip down to knee for 30 seconds. Next, roll along the front of the quad for 30 seconds. Finally, move to the inside of the quad and groin.
Repeat on the other leg. You can continue to switch back and forth between legs for as long as you want.
Foam Rolling: Hips
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Sit on the foam roller with left ankle crossed over right knee. Place hands directly behind you. Gently rock from side to side to release tight glutes. Switch sides after 30 seconds.
Next, flip over so that the foam roller is under the front of right hip. Gently roll this area out for 30 seconds before switching sides.
Basic IT Band Stretch
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Stand tall with right leg crossed over left. Lean to the right (towards front leg) until you feel a stretch along the side of left leg. Hold for 30 seconds, breathing deeply the entire time. Repeat 5 times before switching sides.
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Grab a strap and lie faceup with legs hip-width apart. Bring left leg up and place strap around the ball of left foot. Keeping left foot flexed, slowly draw leg over to the right side. Both legs stay straight the entire time and hips stay planted on the floor (You should really feel this one!). Hold for 30 seconds, and then repeat on the other side.