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Your tibialis anterior muscle is located to the front of your shin and runs down the lateral side of the tibia.
Sometimes referred to as the shin muscle or front calf muscle, it’s responsible for dorsiflexion of the ankle joint, which means it helps to lift the foot so that your toes point upwards.
If you find you have discomfort down the front of your lower leg and along the tibialis anterior tendon, this could be a sign of things like shin splints.
What’s more, if you find it difficult to lift the front part of your foot, this may be a result of a condition known as foot drop which can often be caused by weak tibialis muscles.
The good news is with regular exercises for tibialis anterior muscles you can help to strengthen them and increase the range of motion to your ankle joints.
What Does The Tibialis Anterior Do
The primary functions of the tibialis anterior are dorsiflexion and inversion of the foot.
In the event of dorsiflexion, the tibialis anterior performs this action along with the extensor hallucis longus and extensor digitorum longus muscles.
Where inversion activates the peroneus tertius muscle.
Let’s look at dorsiflexion and inversion in a bit more detail:
Ankle dorsiflexion is to move the top of the foot towards your shin.
When you raise your foot off the ground to bring your toes towards your shin, the anterior tibialis actively contracts to perform dorsiflexion.
The muscle plays a crucial role when it comes to functional activities such as walking and climbing the stairs.
The limit to which someone can perform dorsiflexion will usually vary from person to person.
However, if you find it difficult you could have poor ankle mobility and/or weak ankle muscles.
You can read more about dorsiflexion and some recommended exercises to improve ankle mobility here.
Inversion refers to the movement of turning the sole of the foot inwards and towards the midline of the body.
The tibialis anterior isn’t the main muscle responsible for this action but it does assist to some extent.
It’s common for medical professionals to mention inversion (or eversion which is to turn the sole outwards) in the case of things like ankle sprains or stress fractures where the ligaments or bones of the ankle become injured after high impact activities.
Why Anterior Tibialis Exercises Are Important
It’s important to regularly perform exercises to work the tibialis as if there’s a dysfunction or imbalance to this muscle it can lead to an increased risk of injury and other issues like foot drop or an altered gait.
The tibialis anterior works together with other muscles, particularly those to the back of your lower legs.
The calf muscles, which include the soleus and gastrocnemius muscles are responsible for plantarflexion, which is to extend the foot and point the toes away from the shin.
Dorsiflexion (the action of the tibialis anterior) and plantarflexion (the action of the calf muscles) are antagonistic movements that work together to control the position of the foot and ankle to provide stability and balance.
For example, when you take a step forward, your tibialis anterior contracts to lift your foot, and as you push away from the ground with your toes, the calf muscles (gastrocnemius and soleus) are actively involved in plantar flexion.
Best Stretches & Exercises For Tibialis Anterior Muscle
Now that we know a bit more about this important muscle, let’s look at some of the best tibialis anterior stretches and exercises for warming up these shin muscles, increasing their strength, and improving overall mobility.
Tibialis Anterior Foam Roll
Using a foam roller is a great way of mobilizing the soft tissue down the front of the shin and is perfect for relieving tight tibialis muscles and increasing blood flow.
It works by breaking up knots and adhesions to muscle fascia and is a great way of starting out this exercise routine.
If you feel any tender spots when doing this exercise, pause and move your ankle around to apply increased pressure to that area.
How To Do It:
- With the foam roller on the ground get yourself into a prone position and rest your hands on the floor.
- Position the roller just beneath the knee and at the top of the tibialis anterior muscle. Keep your other leg outstretched.
- Slowly roll down the muscle belly until you get around halfway down, you want to avoid the tendon and shin bone.
- Roll back up to the starting position and continue rolling in this way for around 1 to 2 minutes.
Toes taps are one of the easiest and low-impact exercises for improving the strength of the tibialis anterior muscles.
You don’t need any equipment for this exercise but if you did want to add a little resistance when the muscles become stronger, all you need to do is place a small lightweight dumbbell across the top of your foot and perform it in the same way.
You can hold the dumbbell in place with your hands for increased stability if you need to.
How To Do It:
- Begin in a seated position with your feet hip-width apart.
- Working either both feet at once or one at a time, simply raise the balls of your feet off the floor.
- Raise the front of your feet as high as you find comfortable while keeping your heels on the ground.
- Now, lower the feet down and continue tapping in this way for 10 to 20 repetitions.
Toe Extensor Stretch
The toe extensor static stretch is a great exercise for stretching out the soft tissue down the front of the lower leg to the top of your foot.
When it’s done properly, you’ll feel a good stretch to the tibialis anterior muscle all the way down to your ankles.
How To Do It:
- Start by sitting on the edge of a chair and take your right foot and cross it over your left knee.
- Using your left hand and wrap it around the toes of your right foot.
- Carefully pull your foot towards you into plantar flexion.
- Hold this stretch for 15 to 20 seconds and repeat on the other leg.
Tibialis Raise With Resistance Band
This is a great tibialis anterior strengthening exercise and all you need is a resistance band to perform it.
If you do this exercise not only will it strengthen the muscles to the front of your lower leg but it can also help alleviate knee and shin pain.
How To Do It:
- Anchor your band to the bottom of a table leg or similar.
- Sit on the ground with both legs extended.
- Wrap the band around the top of one and sit back far enough to create tension in the band.
- From here, pull your toes towards your shin – you should notice the band become tighter and tension increase to the tibialis muscle fibers.
- Slowly move your foot back to the starting position and repeat.
- Complete 10 to 15 reps and then switch to the other foot.
Tibialis Anterior Stretch
This is a kneeling tibialis anterior exercise that you can do pretty much anywhere making it accessible to anyone.
Stretching this muscle offers numerous health benefits.
Firstly, it can help to prevent shin splits, a condition that usually affects avid runners and gymnasts.
Secondly, stretching the tibialis muscle can help to alleviate discomfort associated with things like anterior compartment syndrome.
In that instance, it would need to be overseen by a physical therapist.
Stretching out the anterior tibialis muscle is a good way to finish the workout and loosen up the muscles.
How To Do It:
- Start by kneeling on the ground with the top of your feet resting on the floor.
- Keeping your foot in place, raise one knee off the ground.
- Hold on to something for balance if you need to and remain for a count of 10.
- Once done, switch to stretch out the other leg.
How Often Should You Train The Anterior Tibialis Muscle
Tibialis anterior exercises tend to be low impact, in which case you should be able to comfortably perform them daily with no issues.
For types of exercise like toe taps, you could perform these several times per day if this is within your ability.
However, for weight-bearing strengthening exercises you could aim for 2 to 4 times per week, especially when just starting out.
While there are many different ways of targeting the tibialis anterior muscles through various exercises and stretches, it’s important to balance this out with workouts to engage the gastrocnemius and soleus muscles.
As these muscles form an antagonistic pair, you’ll want equal balance and symmetry across all the muscle groups.
Balanced strength across your lower leg muscles is crucial for overall musculoskeletal health and functional movement.
The agonist and antagonist muscles work together to produce smooth and coordinated movements around the joints and achieving balance between these muscle groups is particularly important for ankle stability, gait efficiency, and injury prevention.
If you have an underlying condition, before undertaking any of the exercises recommended in this article, it’s a good idea to seek professional medical advice.
If you have time, why not check out our recommended calf exercises for strength and size.