Want to run faster and avoid knee pain? Keep your TFL flexible. The tensor fascia latae (TFL) muscle is one of the hip flexor muscles responsible for pulling your thigh up (flexing the hip!), abducting the thigh (moving the leg out to the side), medially rotating the thigh (turning the leg in) and stabilizing the hip and pelvis.
The TFL is a small muscle on the outside of edge of the hip which attaches to the IT band. When the TFL is tight, it can contribute to knee pain and injuries such as the iliotibial band syndrome (ITBS), patellofemoral pain syndrome (PFPS), and even meniscus injuries.
Running shortens the TFL muscle because the hip is continually contracting with each stride. Tight TFL muscles pull the front of the hips down sending your pelvis into an anterior tilt resulting in the gluteus muscles being stretched. When the glute muscles are stretched they have difficulty generating the power needed for running, especially during hill workouts. The glutes play a major role in hip extension (moving the thigh backwards) and, as Coach Jeff Gaudette states, “the power for hip extension is generated from hip extensors, glutes and hamstrings and it is perhaps the single most important factor in your ability to run faster.” Keeping the TFL lengthened helps prevent common knee injuries but also maximizes power to run faster.
Try lengthening your TFL muscle with these stretches.
Lizard pose variation
Begin on your hands and knees. Inhale and step your right foot forward to the outside edge of your right hand. Exhale, lower your left knee to the ground and untuck your left toes so the top of your left foot is on the ground. In this position you will feel a stretch at the front of your hip. To stretch the TFL muscle, begin to turn your torso towards your front right leg on your next exhale. Notice how the stretch moves to the side of your hip. Try to hold this stretch for 30 seconds, focusing on each breath while in the position.
Repeat on the other side.
Low lunge side lean pose
Begin on your hands and knees with your toes tucked under. Step your right foot forward between your hands. Slide your left knee back so that aren’t directly on top of your kneecap and place a folded towel under your left knee. Inhale and lift your body to an upright position. Exhale, place both hands on your right thigh and gently draw your hip forward while keeping your lower back pulled back. In this position you will feel the stretch at the front of your hip. To stretch the TFL, inhale and reach your left arm up. Exhale and lean your body to the right but do not lean forward. Hold this pose for 30 seconds.
Repeat on the other side.