When people think vertical jump training, they think of heavy squats, Olympic lifts, and plyometrics.
They focus so much of their training around the quads and glutes and often lose sight of, well, the entire bottom half of their legs. They know it’s there and involved somehow, but fail to really grasp its importance.
The truth is that the vertical jump is a kinetic chain that’s only as strong as its weakest link.
Today I’m going to explain how vitally important the tibialis anterior is in the vertical jump and why you absolutely have to be giving this muscle plenty of love in your vertical jump training program.
Briefly. we’ll address the following…
- Biomechanically, why the tibialis anterior may just be the single most important muscle for efficient transferral of force when jumping,
- How the tibialis anterior acts as a guardian angel to your ankles and knees and how it is an injury prevention machine,
- The most effective ways to integrate tibialis anterior exercises into your vertical jump training routine to add strength and inches.
After reading this article I’m confident you’ll never neglect your shins again – and you’ll probably come to love training them like I do!
What Biomechanical Purpose Does The Tibialis Have?
For those uninitiated, the tibialis anterior is the muscle on the front of your shin.
When you dorsiflex your ankle (raise toes up towards ceiling), you’ll probably be able to see it protrude out from your shin. It attaches on the inside of your ankle and runs all the way up your shins to your knee.
Two Key Roles Of The Tibialis Anterior
The TA has two roles: ankle dorsiflexion and ankle inversion/eversion.
While you’re looking at the above image, I want you to think about just how relevant these specific motions might be in the vertical jump.
I’m sure you can think of plenty of activities that involve dorsiflexion of the ankle: walking, running, stopping, and jumping come to mind.
But what about ankle inversion? It looks an awful lot like a rolled ankle, doesn’t it?
If you find yourself doing a lot of lateral movements or change-of-direction (hint: basketballers), you’re going to be doing a fair bit of ankle inversion.
Because the tibialis anterior is the gatekeeper of that ankle inversion movement, it’s also the number one protective mechanism against inversion ankle sprains.
I totally look at a well-oiled tibialis anterior as an injury prevention machine, but more on that later.
Benefits Of Training The Tibialis Anterior
I recently wrote a full article detailing in great depth the benefits of training the tibialis anterior, so be sure to check that out!
Biomechanics Of The Tibialis Anterior In The Vertical Jump
Although a relatively small muscle with respect to the rest of the legs, the TA is involved in several major elements of the vertical jump.
If you just visualize someone going into a vertical jump approach, transferring force into the ground, and springing upwards, you’ll notice that the muscles surrounding the shins are heavily involved in the efficient transfer of force.
Your toes, namely your big toe, are the final point of contact with the ground – and it’s in direct conversation with the shins via the ankles, achilles, and calves.
If the vertical jump were a business proposition, your big toe would be dealmaking with the primary force producers of the upper legs (quads, hammies, glutes). And your shins would very much at the table in that board meeting.
Loading During Eccentric Phase & Knee Angle
Imagine a simple standing vertical jump. In order to go up, we need to load up the quads to generate the potential energy that, once released, will cause us to explode upwards.
As you bend your knees and lower yourself during the eccentric phase of the vertical jump, you’re switching on your tibialis anterior in a big way. This motion is pure dorsiflexion of the ankle.
Remember the vertical jump is all about efficient biomechanics. The highest jumpers are able to transfer force extremely efficiently.
If you have a weak tibialis, you will be unable to get your quads into the perfect position to exert maximal force into the ground. If you have really strong quads but are lacking in the TA department, you will create a leakage of kinetic energy.
Simply put, the TA plays a very large role in the knee angle during the eccentric phase of any jump.
Whether you require a deep or shallow knee bend to generate maximal force will depend quite a bit on genetics, but in any case, by developing the tibialis, you’ll be facilitating highly efficient energy transfer through the amortization phase.
Stability In Amortization Phase, Toe-off, & Hip Extension
In addition to allowing our quads to reach the optimal position for force generation, the TA helps stabilize the ankle and knee all the way through the amortization phase (transition from eccentric to concentric) and into the concentric movement.
The more stable and rigid our ankle and knee are here, the less kinetic energy will be leaked, and the more efficient we will become at transferral of force.
As you know, that’s the name of the game when it comes to jumping high!
As I mentioned earlier, your big toe is the last point of contact with the ground.
Toe flexion plays a huge role in the transferral of energy and there is scientific evidence that shows that the stronger your toes are, the higher you will jump.
Three types of vertical jumps without arm swing were performed on a force plate… Relative maximum isometric force and rate of force development of the toe flexor strength were positively correlated with the vertical jump height. These results suggest that the toe flexor strength is an important parameter for enhancing the jump performance.1https://www.researchgate.net/figure/Stick-figure-sequence-of-a-countermovement-vertical-jump-from-a-standing-position-a_fig1_323573799
What does this have to do with the tibialis?
If our tibs are well developed and we have a highly stable connection from the knees to ankles, we’ll be able to transfer a greater amount of kinetic energy through to the feet and toes, allowing us to generate more isometric force with a far superior rate of force development.
Put simply, stronger TAs will improve our toe flexion which is just one of the many important bases to cover when looking to juice inches out of our vertical jump.
Hip extension occurs as the knees straighten and the hips swing forwards and upwards (it’s the same movement when standing up from a chair).
Although the tibialis anterior isn’t directly involved in hip extension, they’re heavily involved in the opposing force: hip flexion – which is the bending at the waist as we load up during the eccentric phase.
I mentioned earlier that the tibialis anterior helps our quads to get into the right position for knee flexion, but this also allows us to find better hip flexion angles as we go into our jump approach.2https://www.twinkl.co.th/teaching-wiki/standing-vertical-jump
You can see how the vertical jump is a complex series of interconnected movements.
It’s a chain.
And if we lose efficiency at one point in the process, that cost compounds and becomes very noticeable the further up the chain we go.
Tibialis Training Will Improve Your Balance Like Crazy!
For the longest time, I had horrific balance…
Just standing on one leg for more than a second was challenging. I was one of those guys who’d end up hopping around the place on one leg trying to balance when stretching my quads.
Single leg Romanian deadlifts? Hah, forget it!
When I started doing TA-specific training, literally overnight my balance improved out of sight. Not just a little bit, but immensely.
I went from being unable to balance on one foot for more than a few seconds to being able to stand on one foot for as long as I liked with a great deal of ease. That change occurred in less than a week!
I could calmly stand on one leg while stretching my opposite quad, I was doing bosu ball balancing exercises with no problems and single leg weighted RDLs were actually doable!
Remember how we discussed ‘ankle inversion’ earlier? That’s the exact movement involved in stabilizing our body when standing on one foot – all those tiny micro adjustments from left to right to maintain balance – that’s ankle inversion and eversion.
If you have poor balance, you can literally cure it within days by doing specific TA isolation exercises. I highly recommend it for any athlete who could use some work in this area.
Stability, Mobility, Isometrics, & More Stability
My training philosophy has evolved to place a large emphasis on all the small things. I’m all about bringing up my weaknesses as opposed to doubling down on my strengths.
As someone who has suffered more than my fair share of injuries and been quite frankly reckless with my body over the years, I now side with the old man approach.
When I was 17 years old, I didn’t care about joint health, I didn’t care about overtraining, I just wanted to squat heavier so I could jump higher. As a result, I ended up with patellar tendonitis, meniscus tears, horrific flexibility, and really shoddy ankles.
Now that I’m trying to be smarter with my training, I’m realizing the importance of stability throughout all parts of that kinetic chain. I’m realising the importance of isometric exercises and not having to constantly have a barbell on my back to get stronger.
Stability, mobility, and isometric exercises make up a huge chunk of my overall training routine. For me, it’s become a necessity.
To me the tibialis anterior represents the pinnacle of stabilization in the lower leg. Without it, your ankles are weak. Without it, your knees are weak. Without strong shins, you will get injured. You will suck at landing. And you will never reach your vertical jump potential because you cannot efficiently transfer force.
Your Squats Will Feel Amazing
As we know, squatting is a big part of improving your vertical. You simply have to be squatting regularly if you want to jump high.
One of the major observations I made when I started incorporating lots of TA work into my routine was an immense improvement in my squat.
Not so much in terms of numbers, but it would just feel a lot more strong and secure as I lowered during the eccentric phase.
I felt I was able to secure my knees and ankles in a much stronger position, which took a lot of pressure off my knees and hips and put it on my quads, where it belonged.
That entire downwards movement in the squat, the lowering into the hole… boy that feels so much more powerful and on-point when you can perfectly control that decent by really activating those muscles on the front of your shin.
You simply start to feel like a really well oiled machine, in all of your movements.
Antagonistic Muscles Of The Calves
You used to hear about elite bench pressers developing back issues because they overdeveloped their chest and were left with a muscle imbalance.
In the same way that the triceps antagonize the biceps and the hip flexors antagonize the glutes, the tibialis anterior antagonizes the gastrocnemius.
It’s vital that we keep these muscles ‘balanced’ so as not to cause one antagonist muscle to ‘pull’ too hard on its pair.
The calves are often given plenty of training attention. Everyone’s always very concerned about their calves. Yet no one even thinks about training their shins.
This means there’s probably a small muscle imbalance present in almost all athletes who do calf raises but don’t train the TA.
Let’s keep the lower legs balanced by ensuring the muscles on the front of the shin are keeping up with the ones on the back!
Acute & Chronic Jump Related Injury Prevention
When it comes to vertical jump training, people tend not to focus much on injury prevention because it’s not particularly sexy.
But the reason it’s so important is because, in order to achieve peak vertical jump numbers, you’re required to perform at an exceptionally high level for a very long period of time.
If you get sick or injured, you’re going to move backwards very quickly and it’s difficult to make that ground back.
Paul Fabritz of PVJ Performance mentions that in the ‘final phase’ of training for vertical jump, you’re essentially putting all your training effort into simply maintaining the vertical jump you do have and shouldn’t be expecting much in the way of additional gains.
So if it requires all our effort just to maintain our vertical, then getting injured is a sure-fire way to set us back.
Doing plyometrics or heavy lifts can feel fine at the time but we quite often don’t accurately gauge how long certain exercises take to recover from.
You can’t jump a lot every day and expect not to get injured.
You can’t do a massive plyo workout after a max squat day and expect not to get injured.
But because we’re young and fearless, we quite often push our bodies slightly too far.
One of my core training principles is longevity because even if we make slower gains, the fact that we’re far less likely to get injured means in the long run we likely have a better shot at succeeding.
With that aside, how does the tibialis anterior help stop us from getting injured?
Acute Injuries: Sprains & ACL
If you’re an athlete of any kind, chances are you’ve done your ankle a fair few times. The inversion ankle sprain is the most common. This is where you’re damaging the ligaments on the outside of the ankle.
If you refer to the start of this article, I discussed the tibialis anterior’s two functions: ankle dorsiflexion and ankle inversion/eversion.
Basically, that lateral/sideways rolling movement of the ankle is controlled by the TA.
If you have a strong tibialis anterior, you are at far lower risk of rolling your ankle when playing sports, because your ankle is more able to support your weight in this inverted position.
ACL injuries often occur when making a quick lateral shift in direction. These lateral movements rely heavily on ankle inversion and so having strong tibs is only going to improve efficiency here, which may save you from doing your ACL.
You can also tear your ACL when landing from a jump. As your foot hits the ground and you flex at the ankle joint, your TA is activated and becomes your first line of defence as you begin absorbing the huge forces involved with landing a max vertical jump.
If you have a weak tibialis anterior, you won’t efficiently absorb force upon landing. This is perhaps one of the quickest ways to not only cause an acute injury but often leads to chronic knee injuries.
Chronic Injuries: Patellar Tendonitis & Shin Splints
If you’re a serious hooper or high level volleyball player, you’ve almost certainly experienced jumper’s knee, shin splints, or stress fractures at some point.
Patellar tendonitis is the inflammation of the tendon which connects your kneecap to your shin.
It’s classified as an overuse injury, often associated with jumping on hard surfaces. But I like to believe patellar tendonitis doesn’t come from jumping on hard surfaces too much, but rather jumping on hard surfaces with muscular weaknesses and imbalances too much.
The reality is most people have muscular deficiencies in their legs. Especially young athletes that haven’t developed completely.
Our modern-day obsession with heavy strength training and overzealous incorporation of plyometrics while ignoring basic bodyweight stability and isometric exercises seems to perpetuate the prevalence of tendonitis in athletes.
By focusing on the tibialis, we strengthen and stabilize the knee joint so it’s better able to cope with the force of jumping and high impact activities. TA exercises are commonly prescribed as treatment for tendonitis.
Shin splints are more or less the same story. Both of these conditions can be prevented or cured by placing emphasis on strengthening the lower leg, namely the tibialis anterior.
Stress fractures are also a common jump-related ‘overuse’ injury. I put overuse in quotes because it’s more accurate to describe these injuries as ‘deficiencies’ or underdevelopment issues as opposed to overuse.
It’s quite likely that if the lower leg was much stronger in the right areas, the same exact amount of usage would be completely asymptomatic.
Incorporating Tibialis Anterior Training Into Your Vertical Jump Routine
Hopefully by now you’re convinced that you need to be doing some TA-specific training every week as part of your vertical jump training.
The great thing about tibialis anterior training is that regardless of your level of development or what phase of training you’re in, you can always be working on this muscle and it’s only ever going to help.
Personally, I like to do stability and mobility exercises at least 5-6 days a week.
You don’t have to do this, but for me it’s a core part of my training philosophy. For me, the tibialis falls starkly under the stability and mobility umbrellas, so I’m training this muscle almost every day.
Muscle Fiber Type & Rep Ranges
There seems to be agreement that the TA is mostly slow twitch in nature, which means it’s better suited to higher rep ranges.
This also means it’ll recover relatively quickly and so you can generally train your shins with a very high frequency.
It’s also just pretty tough to get a huge load on this muscle to begin with, so the sky’s the limit in terms of how often you want to train your tibialis anterior.
Exercises for Stretching & Strengthening The Tibialis Anterior
I’ve recently published an updated list of the top exercises for tibialis anterior strengthening ranked by effectiveness which includes video descriptions. I highly recommend taking a look!
While the verdict is still out as to how valuable static stretching is, I’ve chosen to include a few stretches for your TA alongside the strengthening exercises I recommend.
I find that stretching this muscle is mostly unnecessary but may be worthwhile if you feel as though you’re particularly tight in the shins.
Kneeling Ankle Sits
Simply sit with your weight on top of your heels. Elevate your toes on a slightly raised surface for a deeper stretch.
Standing Elevated Tibialis Stretch
Place your foot on an elevated surface and stretch through the top of your ankle.
You can get quite creative when coming up with various tibialis strengthening exercises.
You can start very simply just by standing up against a wall and dorsiflexing at the ankles.
Standing Tibialis Raise
Stand against a wall, dig your heels into the ground, and dorsiflex your toes up and down.
Seated Band Resistance Raise
While seated, use a band as resistance while dorsiflexing the ankle.
Standing Band Resistance Raise
The same can be done in a standing position.
Walk up and down on your heels. Try not to lean backwards; stay upright.
Using a tib bar, dorsiflex your ankles remembering to squeeze at the top before lowering slowly.
As you can see, most of these exercises are fairly similar in nature. Even if you don’t have access to bands, you can still get a really excellent burn just by standing against a wall or walking up and down on your heels for a while.
Use what you can to make things more difficult.
If you have access to a kettlebell, you can attach that to your foot and use that for resistance if you like.
As mentioned earlier, you can do plenty of reps for the tibs. 20-30 Reps per set is fine and 3-5 sets per day is also plenty.
I like doing these before lower body workouts as it’s a great way to warm up your lower legs. Some people prefer doing them after their workout, it’s completely up to you.
Using a tib bar is going to be the smoothest and easiest way to train your tibs, however.
Band Regression Exercises
If you’ve got a decent resistance band you can start by doing simple regression work at least 2-3 times a week to improve overall tibialis and ankle mobility.
The ankle walks are usually going to be difficult for a number of people because this is a very unfamiliar position. It’s more of a stretch than a strengthening exercise but is still highly effective.
Start incredibly slowly just by loading some weight onto the side of your foot by standing on the spot. Progress through to walking on the sides of your ankles.
This is another great way to shield our ankles from acute injuries such as ankle inversion sprains.
Bonus Exercise: Walk On The Beach!
Walking in sand is an amazing way to activate all kinds of lower leg muscles you didn’t even know you had, including the tibialis! Your feet and ankles are exposed to unfamiliar movements which strengthen the tibialis through ankle inversion.
Do Tibialis Raises Increase Vertical Jump?
Tibialis raises will absolutely increase your vertical jump. Most athletes have underdeveloped tibs and so actually training them will allow you to jump more efficiently.
Tibialis raises increase ankle mobility and improve knee flexion as well as overall stability so they’re going to help you position your body in a way which will allow you to produce more force.
Advanced Tibialis Anterior Training Devices
Bodyweight exercises work fine, however it is possible to load up on weights to make your shins really, really strong.
I highly recommend checking out both my anterior tib machine buyers guide as well as my tib bar buyers guide which explains in a lot more detail what these products do, why you should use them, and which ones are worth looking at!
For athletes serious about strengthening their shins, bulletproofing their ankles and knees, and increasing stability in all manner of athletic endeavors, I’d highly recommend investing in one of these more advanced pieces of equipment!
Final Word On The Tibialis Anterior
Without a doubt this is one of the most underrated muscles when it comes to the vertical jump.
I’ve experienced first hand how big of a difference actually training this muscle can make on everything from balance to squat stability and jump performance.
People are always asking for what the fastest way to increase their vertical is…
While that’s not really a question I care to answer, if I had only two days to train an athlete to jump higher using only one exercise, it would be the tibialis raise.
This is purely because it’s so neglected in so many people and responds incredibly quickly when given some much needed love and attention.
Not only is it going to improve your performance, but it’s almost certainly going to save your ankles and knees from an overuse injury at some point.
If you haven’t yet considered incorporating tibialis anterior specific work into your routine and you care about jumping higher, I’d highly recommend getting on that!