5 Tibialis Anterior Exercises (Improve Lower Leg Strength)

James Cunningham, BSc, CPT
Published by James Cunningham, BSc, CPT | Staff Writer & Senior Coach
Last updated: January 15, 2024
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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.

Quick Summary

  • The effective tibialis anterior exercises include toe drag stretch, kneeling anterior stretch, resistance band shin workouts, uphill runs, and isometric exercises.
  • A shin split is one of the indicators that you have weak tibialis anterior.
  • According to the Mayo Clinic, shin splints, a common issue with weak tibialis anterior muscles, can be reduced by replacing running shoes every 350 to 500 miles.
  • In my personal opinion, regularly practicing these tibialis anterior exercises is essential for runners and athletes to prevent injuries and improve overall lower leg strength and stability.

Exercises To Improve Tibialis Anterior Weakness

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

1. Toe Drag Stretch

toe drag

According to the article published by Kenhub, these tibialis anterior stretches are a good starting point, and if you have any kind of muscle weakness or soreness, you want to do some tibialis anterior 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 Tibialis Anterior Stretch

Kneeling Tibialis Anterior Stretch

After putting it to the test, I recommend progressing to the kneeling tibialis anterior stretch once you're comfortable with the toe drag. My team discovered that this effectively stretches the muscles further.

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 tibialis anterior 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

Resistance Band Shin Exercise

Based on my first-hand experience, the resistance band shin exercise is a great next step in strengthening. I've used simple looped resistance bands to effectively target the tibialis anterior.

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

Uphill Run exercise

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

isometric exercise

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 muscles of the leg.

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

6. Heel Walk

Heel Walk

This exercise requires you to stand on both feet hip-width apart while barefooted. Raise your toes off the ground until your heels are the only ones in contact with the ground.

Walk around in this position while placing your weight on your heels. A good way to maintain it is by leaning back. Do this exercise three times for about 30 to 45 seconds per set.

Note: repeating this exercise while walking on the balls of your feet will stretch and strengthen both your tibialis anterior muscle and calves.

Other Related Exercises:

Seated Toe Raises

For this best tibialis anterior exercise, you need to sit on a chair with your feet in front of you. Start by raising your toes off of the floor and hold for a second or two when you reach the top. After that, repeat this process 10 to 15 times to complete a set.

Do three sets to make a steady contraction and steady your healthy tibialis anterior muscle.

How to Know If Your Tibialis Anterior Muscle Is Weak?

person barefoot holding his calf in pain

You can identify a weak tibialis anterior muscle by looking for symptoms like shin splints and ankle discomfort with potential swelling due to increased joint strain [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 tibialis anterior 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 Tibialis Anterior Weakness?

Tibialis anterior weakness often results from underuse, especially in those with a sedentary lifestyle or limited physical activity.

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 tibialis anterior weakness cases, you may need some physical therapy, and if you have constant or debilitating tibialis anterior pain, then it’s best to get professional medical advice. It's especially important for tibialis anterior tendonitis.

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 tibialis anterior weakness or tibialis anterior tendonitis 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 tibialis anterior muscle swells while walking or exercising, then it can press against the sheath and cause pain.


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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About The Author

James Cunningham, BSc, CPT
Staff Writer & Senior Coach
James Cunningham, BSc, CPT holds a BSc degree in Sport & Exercise Science from University of Hertfordshire. He's a Health & Performance Coach from London that brings a unique blend of academic knowledge of health supplements and practical exercise experience to the table for his readers.
Learn more about our editorial policy
Benedict Ang, CPT, PN1-NC
Staff Writer & Senior Coach
Benedict Ang, CPT, PN1-NC is an ex-National Soccer player turned MMA and Kickboxing champion, with ACE CPT and PN1-NC certifications. His advice is rooted in education and experience, ensuring that readers receive scientific and battle-tested insights. His mission is to empower his clients and readers to realize their potential and become the best versions of themselves.
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Dr. Harshi Dhingra, MBBS, MD is a published peer-reviewed author and renowned physician from India with over a decade of experience. With her MBBS from Bharati Vidyapeeth and an MD from Rajiv Gandhi University, she actively ensures the accuracy of online dietary supplement and medical information by reviewing and fact-checking health publications.
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