Monday, March 11, 2013

Bringing the Tibialis Up to Par

When young testosterone-filled lifters analyze arm size,  their attention is immediately drawn to the biceps. Most will hit numerous curling movements to grow the biceps and never give any thought to the muscle located behind the arm flexors: the triceps.

The triceps make up 2/3 of upper arm size. Yet, it is rarely held to pedestal levels as the biceps.  The tibailis muscle of the front lower leg receives the same neglect when it comes to overall circumference of the lower leg.

The tibialis anterior is a crucial muscle of the lower body and one that I have found to be neglected in most exercise programs. This powerful dorsiflexor and invertor of the foot aids each propulsion during walking gait and jumping, and from a cosmetic standpoint -- adds a significant amount of mass to the lower leg.

Most gym-goers train the posterior mass muscle--the gastroc and soleus (calf muscle). These are also important muscles responsible for plantarflexion and knee flexor (gastroc only), but they fail to perform opposite the actions at the ankle joint.  Many experts have begun to recognize the significance of foot/ankle dynamics and the relationship this complex has with the entire kinetic chain. For those that discount the importance of the foot in weight-training; it would only be wise to mention that the foot is always in contact with the ground and is the main "communicator" between force production and the body.

High arches or supinated feet can pose problems for active individuals due to the instability that may be present at the ankle joint. This instability may cause high risk of ankle sprains in athletes and active people--leaving them prone to weeks and months of no lower-body dominated activities. From a bio-mechanical viewpoint, the anterior tibialis  is a strong stabilizer during walking. When there is an abnormal relationship with antagonist muscles (strength ratios), dysfunction can lead to poor locomotive actions. So, negligence of training this muscle can cause "confusion" in the ankle and foot complex--increasing the risk of acute injuries. From a hypertrophy standpoint, a developed tibialis can add up to a 1/4 inch to the lower leg.

So how do we train this thin, long muscle? Ankle rolls and heel walks are great for warm-up and mobility. But in order to achieve hypertrophy and strengthen the tibialis anterior, we need to perform a single joint action that mimics its function under loads--dorsiflexion. I have enlisted the use of the horizontal leg press for one thing....calf raises or loaded dorsiflexion.

To perform: Set yourself up in a leg press (horizontal sled preferably) with knees slightly bent. Choose about 25% less weight than what you would use for the  calf raises. Follow that with raising the forefoot off the sled and begin dorsiflexing. The video doesn't show, but your weight is being placed through the heel. This enacts the tibialis to contract--acting as the ground in this situation.

Here's another video:

Each rep should bring your foot flat against the plate with knees remaining bent. As you dorsiflex the ankle, this should slide the sled back a few inches. I like the rep range in 12-15 range with 30 seconds of rest in between sets. The tibialis can be tight on some people and may spasm or feel taunt. This is an auxiliary exercise so there is no need to spend all day on it. I like 2-3 "polishing off" sets.

1 comment:

  1. Nice article John, very informative. Keep us informed with helpful materials such as this.

    Looking forward to reading more of your articles.

    Rick Kaselj
    Exercises For Injuries


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