The question: Spin classes have caused my IT bands to hurt. I have been told to use foam rollers to massage my legs. Is that true and should I be doing anything else?
The answer: Absolutely, keep using the roller. But massaging your legs, although great, is reactive, not proactive.
The IT band (iliotibial band) is a tendon that runs lengthwise up the side of your thighs (under the side seem of your pants), connecting your bum to your knees. It is a tendon, not a muscle, and thus is not really supposed to do much heavy lifting. It gets irritated most often when the muscles of the lower body (especially the bum) are not doing their job and therefore has to pick up the slack when your bio-mechanics are suboptimal.
To figure out what initially caused your IT band's crankiness, consider the following six things.
1. Make sure your seat and handle bars are at the appropriate height, and your feet are securely strapped or clipped in.
2. Check your form. Make sure your knees aren't caving in or splaying out, and that you're using your core to keep your pelvis stable as you ride. Don't just push the pedals down as that overworks the front of your legs. Instead, work through the entire pedal stroke by using the back of your legs to pull your heels up toward your bum.
3. Make sure you always have enough tension on your bike that you can spin with control.
4. Make sure your entire lower body, especially your bum, is strong. When your bum isn't strong, the rest of your body – including your IT bands – will become overworked. Strengthen it with alternating single-leg bridges: Lie on your back, legs bent and feet on the floor. Use your bum to lift your hips up. Without letting your pelvis rock side to side, alternate lifting legs 10 times.
5. Make sure you are not overtraining by spinning too often. Do strength-training and core work; roll, stretch and mix up your cardio.
6. Lastly, check that you are using the roller correctly. Massage the tissue ever so slightly in front of the seam of your pants, but don't press directly down on the IT band.
If you still don't feel better, make an appointment with a physiotherapist for a full assessment.
Trainer's tip: When travelling, I use "sticks" instead of rollers. They are small, like a skinny rolling pin, so they travel well.
Kathleen Trotter has been a personal trainer and Pilates equipment specialist for over 10 years. Her website is kathleentrotter.com.