Stretch of the Week: Shoelace (Hips #2/ IT Band & TFL #1) – Movement Labs

Stretch of the Week: Shoelace (Hips #2/ IT Band & TFL #1)

*Apologies if you got this before it was in its final format.  WordPress recently re-vamped their interface, and I swear the “Publish” button is wear the “Preview” button used to be…

Although I haven’t made a big bloggy fuss about it, I’ve been Elf for Health-ing the last two weeks.

[What is EoH?  Basically, bloggers Lindsay & Elle organized a pretty enormous group (over 700 people this time around!) of interested folks, paired us up, and gave us one health/lifestyle challenge per day.  We support our partner, as well as other participants, through challenges like longest wall sit, Eat the Rainbow, clean out your closet, etc. There are prizes and goodies for being a spectacular elf, but for most of us, this is simply a little extra reminder and motivation to maintain good habits through the holiday season.]

Wednesday’s challenge was to Share Your Knowledge.  My brilliant plan was to write up Thursday’s Stretching Post on Wednesday, and get two birds with one stone.  Alas, I started…but got side-tracked by other projects (whoops).  So I’m not really sure I shared much on Wednesday, except perhaps some running advice with a few clients.  BUT – I’m finally sitting down to finish up that stretching post.  Here it is!

If you’re new to the stretching series, then check out the Stretch of the Week: Start Here!.  Also, take note: Some stretches aren’t right for some people.  If you are in pain, or something feels wrong, just stop.  There will be another stretch next week.  If you don’t feel anything, that’s fine.  You don’t need the stretch.  Move right along, and have a good day.  If you love it – bookmark it!  If you bookmark your favorites, then in 6 months, you’ll generate enough stretches to easily assemble a post-workout stretching routine (or two!).

Background: As I’ve said before, requests for hip/piriformis stretches are, by far, the most common request I receive.  So I’m aiming to do a sequence of 5-8 hip stretches, to help you all get started and find a few that work well for you and your body.  I won’t differentiate too much between the hips and piriformis – some of the hip stretches may do a great job on your piriformis, others may not.  But there are lots of small muscles in your hip area, and the tight muscle(s) you are feeling may or may not actually be (only) your piriformis.  Ultimately, it doesn’t matter – we’ll stretch them all!

Depending on the relative tightness of your hips, and the exact geometry of your body, you may also feel this stretch extend down from your hips along the outside of your leg.  You probably call this your “IT band”.  Quick note: Your actual IT (iliotibial) band is connective tissue, which can be stretched just a little bit.  But if you feel a stretch in the upper third of the outer thigh, then the muscle that you are feeling stretch is most likely your Tensor Fasciae Latae (TFL), which ultimately inserts into your IT tract (band).  Runners, especially, often use “IT band” to refer to the whole length.  Regardless, the stretch is the same – just trying to add some education into our stretching sessions!

Contraindications: Nothing major here.  This stretch puts less pressure and potential twisting on the knees than the other hip stretches I’ve shared – but if you have knee issues, move in and out of this pose cautiously.  But generally, this pose is quite supported and stable.


Sit on the floor (slightly soft surface)
Center weight evenly on sitz (sitting) bones (the bone in each butt cheek that you sit on)
Bend knees, soles of feet on floor
Stabilize core, sit up straight

Relax outside of right leg onto the floor, as though coming into cross-legged position
Adjust right knee to be centered (left-to-right) with respect to torso (move right foot further out and/or behind to get proper knee position)

Position right leg

Position right leg

Bend left leg and stack over right leg (knee over knee)

Position left leg on top

Position left leg on top

From the front, you’ll look something like this:

View from the front.  Don't mind my furrowed brow.  It was sunny?

View from the front. Don’t mind my furrowed brow. It was sunny?

Stretch: You may feel a stretch simply sitting up straight.  For a greater stretch, start by lifting your spine straight, then tipping forward from the hips (with a straight back).

Tip forward with a straight back

Tip forward with a straight back

Remember to relax your hips.  Your hips want to protect you – and themselves – so they may tighten up when you lean forward.  Think about relaxing them and gently easing yourself a bit further down.  Stop at the point where you feel a moderate stretch.

Length of Hold:  I start this stretch sitting tall and consciously relaxing my hips.  After about 15-20 seconds, I am relaxed enough to lean forward a bit.  I continue this process, tipping a bit more as I am able, for 1-2 minutes.

Release: Use your hands to gently remove the top leg.  Be careful, as your hip(s) may feel quite fragile.  Set both feet on the floor, hip distance apart (or wider), knees bent.  Lean back slightly onto your hands, and move your legs slowly in whatever motion seems comfortable: Rock knees from side to side, straighten legs out in front, pull legs in to chest – whatever feels best to YOUR body.  After ~30-45 seconds of recovery, repeat with the other leg on top.

Variation: After the straight-back position, try releasing your spine and curling forward over your legs with a rounded back.  I find that the stretch isn’t as strong in this position, but it is considerably easier to relax my hips.  Play around and see what works best for you.

Folded forward

Folded forward

This stretch is a variant of the Box Position from a few weeks ago. Some people prefer one over the other.  I use both, but usually only one per stretching session.

How did the stretch feel while you were doing it?  How did your hip area feel afterward?

If you tried both stretches, do you prefer the Box Position or Shoelace?

Take it, or leave it?
[This is for my own data gathering purposes.  I won’t be offended if you don’t like it.]

Like this one? Check out more Stretch of the Week posts:

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  1. Char December 20, 2013 at 2:11 pm - Reply

    I’m a member of the tight hips brigade and really appreciate anything that will loosen them so I’ll be awaiting all your stretches with eagerness.

    • Holly @ Run With Holly December 20, 2013 at 4:49 pm - Reply

      The club is large, so welcome!! 🙂 We can all work together to fend off the issues associated with over-tight hips. At the same time, give thanks to them for the stability they provide. Double-edged sword right there…

  2. Jess December 20, 2013 at 6:28 pm - Reply

    I love this stretch! Feels so good!

  3. Nicole @ Work in Sweats Mama December 21, 2013 at 12:46 am - Reply

    Ohhh, I can’t wait to try this one. My left hip has been a bit wonky since the marathon, and that usually leads to some ITB issues and knee pain for me. Time to nip it in the bud with this stretch. Thanks, Holly!

  4. Karen December 21, 2013 at 9:24 am - Reply

    Those stretches aren’t my favorite. I occasionally have tight hips, but it’s more into my glutes, which these don’t quite seem to get for me. This one also makes my knees feel weird. Is it wrong that I was so mesmerized by your lush backgrounds that I had to scroll up and read this post again to figure out what it was about? So much green!!

    • Holly @ Run With Holly December 22, 2013 at 8:41 am - Reply

      Ah – yes. This stretch isn’t the best for glutes. And if it bugs your knees, don’t do it. I’m biased toward these because I like them; but I’ll be presenting other hip stretches, as well as some glute stretches, in the coming weeks. Hopefully there will be something there that suits you!

  5. Allison December 21, 2013 at 7:43 pm - Reply

    ok holly, I have a request for you. Pack up your life husband and knowledge and move to Texas and be my friend/spin instructor/running buddy/and stretching goodness. Basically everything lower than my breast is always tight.minus the stomach obviously.
    I need to stretch and know I should but I never do.

    • Holly @ Run With Holly December 22, 2013 at 8:44 am - Reply

      Ha! Allison, you made me smile in the middle of a stressful day.

      But unfortunately, Texas would be near to NEITHER of our families, so…no one would win, really. Except I hear the winter weather is pretty mild. Except…right. Not exactly that, either. Whoops.

      I’m planning for a Stretching Challenge in January, so stay tuned (I’m new to the Challenge thing, but feel like lots of people are telling me they SHOULD stretch, and WANT TO stretch, but just don’t have/make/dedicate the TIME to stretch – maybe a post-New Year challenge would be the ticket?)

  6. December 22, 2013 at 11:43 am - Reply

    This is a stretch that feels so good, but that I haven’t done in quite some time. I’ll certainly do it tomorrow after my long run now that you’ve got me thinking about it!

  7. Meagan December 24, 2013 at 11:38 pm - Reply

    I could feel a really good stretch in the hip of the bottom leg and down the outside of that leg. But I couldn’t get my top leg fully into the position. Apparently my hips are very tight!

    • Holly @ Run With Holly December 28, 2013 at 10:43 am - Reply

      Meagan – it may be that your hips are tight, or it may be the length/shape of your legs, or how they are jointed into you pelvis. I happen to have very long legs that give me a lot of room to stack – but I’m also pretty tall. So my pictures may not be an accurate reflection of how you (or someone else) will look. If you like the stretch in the lower leg, by all means keep this one in your stretch rotation. But if it’s not quite comfortable, then switch it out for something else. There’s no reason that anyone should love EVERY stretch. I intend to give lots of stretching options over the next year NOT so everyone has a one hour stretch routine, but so that everyone can find 10-15 minutes worth of GOOD stretches.

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