Heel walks are an incredibly simple yet effective way to activate the tibialis anterior (the muscle that runs along the shin bone).
The movement also helps to improve balance, develop better ankle stability, and can be a great exercise to include in warm-up drills for professional athletes and beginners alike.
In this exercise guide, we outline everything you need to know about heel walks, including how to do them safely, the benefits, muscles worked, and potential alternative exercises that produce similar outcomes.
What Are Heel Walks?
Heel walks, or sometimes referred to as “heel walking exercise” involves lifting your toes off the floor as you walk, so that it is only your heels in contact with the floor.
This involves what is called “ankle dorsiflexion” which refers to flexing the ankle to point the toes towards the knee.
The exercise may look a bit silly, but it can be an incredibly effective way at building up strength in the ankle and shin that will ultimately provide a whole host of benefits around improved balance and lower body stability (which will reduce the risk of all sorts of injuries).
How to do Heel Walks Properly
To do heel walks:
- Stand in an upright position with your chest up and back straight.
- Place your feet shoulder width apart and lift your toes off the floor.
- Hold a support if you are struggling with your balance.
- Keep your hips forward and glutes tucked in. Avoid sticking your glutes out to compensate for the lifted toes.
- Walk forward, keeping your toes raised off the floor.
Coach’s Tip – We’d recommend doing heel walks next to a surface you can hold onto… such as a table. This will allow you to regain your balance if you stumble.
Heel Walking Exercise Benefits
Strengthen the Tibialis Anterior
The tibialis anterior is often ignored in fitness plans… in fact, we’d guess most people haven’t even heard of this muscle, let alone know where it is on the body.
But this muscle plays a vital role in protecting the knees and ankles, helping to prevent excessive impact to these joints during things like running, walking and jumping.
A strong tibialis anterior can be a secret weapon when it comes to longevity as well as extending an athlete’s career.
Strengthening the tibialis anterior will also help to counteract potential imbalances with the calf muscle too.
Lifting your toes off the floor will instantly create instability. Your body will need to fight against the imbalance created by this foot positioning.
Improving balance isn’t a “nice to have” physical attribute… for everyone, especially over 50’s, it’s a “must-have.” Without good balance, your risk of injuries from falls and physical activities dramatically increases, which can lead to further complications, particularly in later life.
For athletes, improved balance undoubtedly creates a competitive edge and allows for better functional movement.
The muscles, ligaments and tendons around the ankle are all engaged during heel walks to create the stability needed to keep the foot at this angle for the duration of the exercise.
Better ankle stability and strength ultimately means a reduced risk of ankle strains and injuries… as well as the ability to generate more explosive power from the feet when walking, running and jumping.
Many athletes will focus on ankle flexibility, but strengthening the muscles in this part of the body will help create the control they need during physical activity.
Ankle dorsiflexion refers to the ability to point the toes towards the knee. Having good range of motion at the ankle joint is required to do this, and helps in all sorts of lower body movements.
Our guide on Asian squats, for example, shows that many find deep squats difficult due to poor ankle mobility. Improving ankle dorsiflexion will reduce limitations in the ankle from impacting other exercises and physical activities.
Heel walks are a great beginner-friendly exercise.
If you’re curious about your tibialis anterior strength and balance, doing a few heel walks may provide some insights into your current level.
No Equipment Needed
Heel walks don’t require any equipment and they don’t actually require much space either. You can just do a few steps forward, rest and then turn around and do a few more.
Heel walks primarily work the muscles on the front of the shin, known as the tibialis anterior. The exercise will also activate the muscles, ligaments and tendons around the ankles too.
If heel walks aren’t working for you, another great exercise to strengthen the tibialis and ankle joint is the tibialis raise.
Our guide on how to do tib raises includes more info about how to do this movement properly. This doesn’t rely on having good balance as much, so if you find balance is limiting your success, tib raises might be a better exercise to try.
Another great exercise is the Tib Bar raise. This requires having access to a Tib Bar (you can check out our guide on the best Tib Bars and other tib equipment to help decide which one is right for you).
We think heel walks are a great exercise to strengthen the shin and ankle muscles. Try doing a few sets of 30 second heel walks and see how you get on.
If you want to take your training further, tib raises are another great exercise to program into your fitness routine.
If you experience any pain during the exercise, stop immediately and consult your healthcare professional for guidance.