Avoid Common Running Injuries: The Importance of the Tibialis Anterior Muscle In Runners

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Cross Training For Runners
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David Dack

As a seasoned runner and coach, I’ve learned that it’s often the little things that make a big difference. The tibialis anterior, a muscle not often talked about, is a prime example.

Think of the tibialis anterior as your stride’s secret weapon. It’s behind the smooth lifting of your toes towards your shin with every step you take. This might seem like a minor detail, but it’s actually crucial for keeping you balanced, avoiding those pesky trips, and making sure your feet clear the ground efficiently with each stride.

In this article, I’m diving deep into the world of the tibialis anterior, especially from a runner’s perspective. We’ll unpack everything from its anatomy and key functions to the risks of its weakness and, most importantly, how to strengthen this powerhouse muscle. Why? So you can continue to hit the pavement (or trail) strong and pain-free.


Let’s get started.

Top of Form

Anatomy 101

The tibialis anterior is prominently located at the front of the lower leg. It’s a slender muscle that originates from the upper two-thirds of the tibia, also known as the shinbone, and the interosseous membrane, which is a thin, fibrous sheet between the tibia and fibula.

As it travels down the leg, the tibialis anterior transitions into a tendon near the ankle. This tendon, a robust and fibrous band of tissue, extends to the foot, attaching primarily to the first metatarsal bone and the cuneiform bones. These bones form a part of the arch of the foot.

When I first started coaching, I realized that many runners, much like myself in my early days, had limited knowledge about the tibialis anterior. I used to think it was just another part of the shin, but a chat with a seasoned physiotherapist after a nasty half-marathon injury revealed its true significance.

Let me unpack my lessons.

The Functions

The anterior tibialis, often overshadowed by larger muscles, is in fact a linchpin in the complex mechanics of running. Its functions are multifaceted, playing a critical role in each step you take.

Let’s explore these vital roles:

  • Ankle Dorsiflexion: The primary function of the anterior tibialis is dorsiflexion, where it lifts the foot towards the shin. This action is akin to a powerful cable pulling upwards, crucial for smoothly clearing the ground during the swing phase of your run. It’s essential for navigating uneven surfaces, ensuring a controlled stride and preventing tripping.
  • Foot Positioning for Impact: The anterior tibialis regulates the precise positioning of your foot before it strikes the ground. It aligns your foot and leg for a perfect landing, setting the stage for stability and efficiency in each step.
  • Shock Absorption: When your foot impacts the ground, the anterior tibialis plays a key role in shock absorption. By controlling the descent of the foot and moderating dorsiflexion, it helps to cushion the blow, reducing the impact on the lower leg. This function is crucial in minimizing the risk of injuries like shin splints.
  • Balance and Proprioception: As a master of balance, the anterior tibialis ensures your foot lands in a neutral position, thus reducing the risk of ankle sprains and twists. It also contributes to proprioception, allowing your brain to be aware of your foot’s orientation and movement, crucial for maintaining stability during dynamic running motions.
  • Foot Inversion: The anterior tibialis assists in foot inversion, turning the sole of your foot inward. This subtle yet vital action enhances the stability of your ankle joint, adapting to different surfaces and maintaining balance throughout your run.

Downside of Weak Tibialis Anterior Muscle In Runners

When the tibialis anterior is weak, it can lead to problems. I learned this the hard way. A few years back, I ignored some niggling pain in my shin, only to end up with shin splints. It was a tough lesson in the importance of this muscle.

Don’t take my word for it. Research has shown that weakness or imbalances in the anterior tibialis can contribute to issues like shin splints, stress fractures, and even ankle instability.

Let’s delve into the consequences of such weaknesses and how they manifest in common running issues.

  • Shin Splints: One of the most common ailments among runners, shin splints often arise from an overworked or stressed anterior tibialis. This can occur when you suddenly increase your running mileage, or consistently run on hard surfaces without proper footwear.
  • Tendonitis: Tibialis anterior tendonitis is an inflammation of the tendon connecting the muscle to the bone, usually a result of overuse or poor running form. This condition can cause pain along the front of the ankle, significantly impacting your ability to run comfortably and efficiently.
  • Effects of Improper Footwear: Shoes that lack adequate support or cushioning, or that don’t align with your specific gait, can increase the stress on this muscle. This added strain can lead to discomfort or even injury.
  • Bad form toll : Poor running form puts additional load on the tibialis anterior. Overstriding, excessive heel striking, or a heavy landing can all stress this muscle. Such improper techniques can lead to an array of problems, emphasizing the importance of good running mechanics.

Strengthening the Tibialis Anterior In Runners

Through trial and error, I’ve found a few exercises that work wonders for this muscle:

Toe Taps:

  • This simple exercise targets the tibialis anterior directly, improving its strength and flexibility.
  • How to Do: Sit with your feet flat on the ground. Lift your toes upwards as far as possible while keeping your heels planted. Then lower them back down. Perform 3 sets of 15-20 repetitions.

Resistance Band Dorsiflexion:

  • This exercise adds resistance to the dorsiflexion movement, enhancing muscle strength and endurance.
  • Sit on the floor with legs stretched out. Loop a resistance band around your toes and secure the other end. Flex your foot by pulling your toes toward your shin against the band’s resistance. Complete 3 sets of 15-20 reps for each foot.

Ankle Alphabet:

  • This creative exercise improves the range of motion and strengthens the tibialis anterior, along with enhancing ankle stability.
  •  While sitting or lying, lift one foot slightly off the ground and ‘write’ the alphabet in the air with your big toe. Perform with each foot.

Heel Walking:

  • Heel walking is a practical exercise that strengthens the tibialis anterior and improves balance.
  • Walk around on your heels for a few minutes. Aim for 2-3 minutes.

Eccentric Heel Drops:

  • This exercise emphasizes the eccentric (lengthening) phase, crucial for muscle strength and control, particularly in the tibialis anterior.
  • Stand on the edge of a step with toes on the step and heels extending off. Raise onto your toes, then slowly lower your heels below the step level. Do 3 sets of 12-15 repetitions.

Enhancing Flexibility and Mobility of the Tibialis Anterior:

For runners, maintaining flexibility and mobility in the tibialis anterior is key to a smooth and efficient stride, as well as injury prevention. Here are some effective methods to improve these aspects:

Ankle Dorsiflexion Stretch:

  • This stretch targets the tibialis anterior directly, increasing flexibility in the ankle and shin area.
  • Sit with legs extended, loop a resistance band around the ball of one foot, and gently pull your toes towards you. Hold for 20-30 seconds for each foot. Perform 2-3 sets per foot.

Wall Shin Stretch:

  • This stretch helps lengthen the tibialis anterior and can alleviate tightness in the shin area.
  • Stand facing a wall, place your palms on the wall, and lean forward while keeping your heels grounded. Hold for 20-30 seconds. Repeat 2-3 times.

Calf and Ankle Rolling:

  • Rolling helps release muscle tension, improve blood flow, and enhance overall flexibility in the lower leg.
  •  Use a foam roller or tennis ball to massage and roll your calves and shins. Spend time focusing on tight spots, especially around the tibialis anterior.

Resistance Band Mobility Drill:

  • This drill improves ankle mobility and strengthens the tibialis anterior.
  • With a band around the balls of both feet, flex and point your toes while keeping your legs straight. Do 2-3 sets of 15-20 reps.

Toe Tapping Drill:

  • This dynamic exercise enhances the responsiveness and flexibility of the tibialis anterior, adding to its functional mobility.
  • Rapidly tap your toes while sitting, then rest. Tap for 30 seconds, rest for 30 seconds, and repeat for 2-3 sets.

Alphabet Toe Drill:

  • This creative exercise improves the range of motion and motor control in the tibialis anterior, enhancing both flexibility and proprioception.
  • While seated, lift one foot and use your big toe to ‘write’ the alphabet in the air. Perform with each foot.


Through years of running, coaching, and dealing with my own injuries, I’ve realized the crucial role of the tibialis anterior. It’s not just another muscle; it’s a cornerstone for effective, injury-free running.

I encourage runners, both seasoned and newbies, to pay attention to this often-overlooked muscle. Strengthening and maintaining its flexibility can make a noticeable difference in your running performance and enjoyment.

Remember, every muscle counts when you’re a runner, and the tibialis anterior is no exception. By giving it the attention it deserves, you set yourself up for smoother, more efficient runs. And who knows, it might just be the key to unlocking your next personal best. Happy running!

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