Running is a full-body workout that engages various muscles in the body. However, it’s the muscles from the hip flexors down that are powering the movement. But there is one muscle than often goes ignored that runners need to strengthen more to keep muscles balanced, remain injury-free and further have the power behind their performance.
Introducing the anterior tibialis.
The anterior tibialis is located on the front (anterior) part of the lower leg, running on the outside or lateral surface of the tibia bone. This muscle is responsible for dorsiflexion or the movement when the foot bends upward, toes to the shin, as well as inversion of the foot where the ankle bone rolls out and toes move in and up as in tilting inward.
Why Workout The Anterior Tibialis
A tight anterior tibialis also allows the foot to flex at the ankle joint and the toes to extend. It’s important to strengthen this often ignored muscle because most people have tight calf muscles, the gastrocnemius, and the soleus.
Some people drag their feet and have a hard time lifting the front of the foot. This is what is commonly called “drop foot” or anterior tibialis tendonitis. This is caused by a tight or weak anterior tibialis.
If a person is doing a squat and their heels can’t touch the ground, this is an indication of a tight anterior tibialis.
It’s important to strengthen this muscle to prevent lower leg injuries. Because the body is one kinetic chain, having underactive anterior tibialis muscles can cause lower cross syndrome and poor form when doing certain exercises.
For runners, we don’t have to have weak or lengthened gluteus maximus, gluteus medius, transverse abdominus, anterior and poster tibialis muscles are contributing to lower cross syndrome, whereas the hip flexors, adductors, gastrocnemius, and soleus are some of the muscles that are overactive, or short and tight. This can lead to improper running form, which then translates to less speed and efficiency.
For beginners runners and those increasing their training volume, strengthening this ignored muscle also helps to prevent shin splints.
Anterior Tibialis Stretches For Runners
SPELL THE ABCs
One of the best stretches that encourages a full range of motion is spelling the ABCs with the foot. Use the big toe to lead and make sure to use the ankle to move not the knee.
Foot Flexion With Band
Sit in a chair with let extended and an elastic band or resistance band around the mid-foot. Use the band to pull the foot upward. Make sure to keep the knee straight. Aim for 10 to 15 reps.
Progression: Calf Stretch
Sit on the ground with both legs fully extended. Place the loop of the resistance band or a towel around the ball of the foot. The knee needs to remain straight and pull the towel or band to flex the foot. Hold the stretch for up to 30-seconds then relax. Repeat for at least 3 reps.
Working the anterior tibialis is as easy as just doing toe raises. This is best done barefoot and seated. Bend at the ankle to raise the toes to the shins. Repeat for 12-15 reps on each side. This is great to do while in recovery in between sets of other exercises.
REVERSE CALF RAISES | STAIRS
Calf raises are great for working out the gastrocnemius and the soleus muscles, but doing this exercise in reverse gets the anterior tibialis. Start by standing on a stair, with the heels on the edge. The goal to keep the balls of the feet in the air. Don’t put the toes down. Then flex the foot, remembering not to have the mid-foot and toes touch the ground. Just make sure to keep balance, so hold on to a banister If needed. Do about 12 reps and 2-3 sets.
Progression: Add a dumbbell in each hand and complete the exercise.
The Muscles We Rely On
It’s the muscle of the hip and knee that are the most important to runners. These are the muscles that enable running movement.
This includes the gluteus maximus, a large muscle that should be fired when running because it provides the hips and pelvis with stability while also playing a pivotal role in stride. Because this is a large muscle, runners want to engage it for it can do most of the work so we don’t get fatigued as quickly.
Weak glutes—which is coming from sitting all day—also results in overactive hamstrings. For runners, this means an increased risk of injury since we use our hamstrings to run.
The glutes are important because it allows for hip extension so that the leg and be lifted and go behind when running. To engage the glutes,
The hip flexors are also extremely important for runners. This is because they are responsible for bringing the thigh up once the leg comes up from making contact with the ground. Hip flexors help to keep the pelvis in a neutral position which helps with proper running form. The same is true for hip extenders which help drive the legs back.
Make sure to do hip flexor stretches, which are other stretches that are often ignored by runners.
The quadriceps allows for the knee to straighten, or knee extension to raise the lower leg. It also helps to bend the hip. For runners, think of the quads are shock absorbers when the feet hit the ground.
Most runners rely too much on the quadricep muscles and not enough on the glutes. Remember the glutes are a bigger muscle group so will fatigue longer the quads. Plus relying on the quads is a recipe for potential knee issues.
However, strong quads are still important for runners. But most people don’t run into weak quadricep issues if they run regularly.
On the contrary, the hamstrings are the antagonist muscles that are responsible for bending the, or knee flexion and extension of the hip. These muscles take over one the body moves forward. And the more efficient and powerful hip extension is done, then the faster a runner can go.
There are two major muscles of the calf, the gastrocnemius, and the soleus. The gastrocnemius is the larger chat muscle that most people refer to as the calf muscle in general. The soleus lie underneath this muscle. These muscles are used to help push the feet off the ground.
While these muscles are typically strong in runners, it’s the antagonist muscle, the anterior tibialis that is weak in most people. This is why runners need to not ignore this anterior lower leg muscle to keep balanced and strong.