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5 Tibialis Anterior Exercises To Improve Lower Leg Strength

Last updated: July 12, 2021

I’ve been fortunate to never have experienced problems with my shin or calf muscles, but I have worked with several athletes that had significant issues with their tibialis anterior.

This is the muscle that runs along the shin bone, and there are different reasons why it might become weak and troublesome.

Fortunately, there is a combination of workouts and stretches that you can do to improve your strength and save you a trip to a physical therapist.

Let me show you what I go through with clients.

Exercises To Improve Anterior Tibialis Weakness

Here are five simple stretches and exercises that you can do for 20 minutes each day without needing fancy gym equipment.

1. Toe Drag Stretch

rubber shoes view of a woman pointing her foot backwards

This shin stretch is a good starting point, and if you have any kind of muscle weakness or soreness, you want to do some stretching before you add more strain [1].

Stand up straight and stretch one leg out behind and stretch your foot out as far as you can.

The tip of your toe should be the furthest point away from your body and touching the ground.

Now, slowly pull your leg forward and slightly bend your knee. But you should still keep some downward pressure on the toe.

The effect will be a stretching sensation in the shin muscles, and the more pressure you apply, the more you’ll feel the stretch.

2. Kneeling Shin Stretch

man kneeling on his feet in gym clothes

Once you’ve become comfortable with the toe drag, it’s time to stretch those muscles a bit more.

Your starting position is kneeling on an exercise mat and your knees at a right angle, so your butt is up high.

Now, stretch out your feet so that the soles of your feet point towards the ceiling.

This might seem a bit uncomfortable at first, but that’s a good sign that you’re extending the stretch more.

Next, you want to slowly lower your butt down until it’s resting on the ankles and adding more downward pressure.

Don’t be tempted to bounce your weight up and down. That can cause damaging pressure on the knee and ankle joint.

3. Resistance Band Shin Exercise

leg view of a person pulling a band using her foot

Next up is the first one of our strengthening exercises, and you can do this one with a simple set of looped resistance bands.

Find a stable object that you can attach the band to. I find a table or door framework works well.

Your starting position is seated on the ground with your legs straight out in front of you.

Loop the band around the top of one of your feet and make sure there’s a bit of tension from the start.

Keep your knee straight and pull your toes up towards your body so that the ball of your foot is pointing down the length of the exercise band.

Hold the pressure for a second and then slowly release it back to the starting point.

Repeat these foot flexes about 20 times on each side.

4. Uphill Runs

man running in a mountain

Most people go for a run on level ground. But running with feet flat on the floor all the time doesn’t challenge the tibialis anterior enough.

What you can try to do is find a steep hill and run or walk up to it daily.

And a little trick you can use is to take very small steps to increase the number of times you have to push your body up on the incline.

At the same time, you want to avoid keeping the balls of your feet off the ground.

That tip-toe approach won’t achieve the same benefits.

The increased pressure on your lower legs will concentrate all around the calf.

5. Isometric Exercise

woman down on a yoga mat

You can do these in a seated position, but I find lying down on the ground works better.

The benefit of an isometric exercise is that you can add strain to the muscle without pressure on the joints.

Lay down on a yoga mat and cross one leg over the other at the ankle joints, and your feet stretched out.

Now push the lower leg straight up as if you’re trying to lift the upper leg.

The idea is to feel maximum strain in the shin muscle of the lower leg.

Hold it for about five seconds and repeat about 15 times.

How to Know If Your Tibialis Anterior Muscle Is Weak?

person barefoot holding his calf in pain

One of the most common complaints with the tibialis anterior is shin splints [2]. These can become very painful and often travel along the shin bone.

The other thing you may encounter is an aching sensation around the ankle, which could also be accompanied by swelling.

These are the result of the ankle coming under a lot more strain and pressure because there isn’t enough muscle to support the joint.

A quick test would be using an ankle cuff weight around your toes and then trying to lift the weight by flexing the ankle.

If you struggle with even a light load, then you might need to do some regular targeted exercises.

“Medically known as medial tibial stress syndrome, shin splints often occur in athletes who have recently intensified or changed their training routines. The increased activity overworks the muscles, tendons, and bone tissue.” - mayoclinic.org

What Causes Anterior Tibialis Weakness?

As with most muscles that might waste away, it’s generally a lack of use that causes anterior tibialis weakness.

This is more common than people might think, especially for folks who don’t walk much and don’t use the stairs regularly.

In severe cases, you may need some physical therapy, and if you have constant or debilitating pain in your shins, then it’s best to get professional medical advice

FAQs

What Does the Tibialis Anterior Do?

The tibialis anterior plays a key role in controlling your foot while walking, running, and jumping. It’s responsible for clearing the foot off the ground, and a weakness can negatively impact your gait.

Why Does Your Tibialis Anterior Hurt When You Walk?

Your tibialis anterior may hurt when you walk because the sheath that contains the muscle is too small. When the muscle swells while walking or exercising, then it can press against the sheath and cause pain.

Have You Identified A Weakness In Your Muscles?

Even professional athletes that I have worked with have underestimated how important the anterior tibialis muscle is.

If it’s not trained as much as the other upper and lower leg muscles, then you can run into some problems.

Going through the above exercises will only take a few minutes a week, and they might be the easiest way to prevent shin splints.

Let us know in the comments below or on social media how they work out for you.


References:

  1. https://www.kenhub.com/en/library/anatomy/tibialis-anterior-muscle
  2. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/shin-splints/symptoms-causes/syc-20354105

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