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What Exercises Help Improve Dorsiflexion?

By Shelby Miller
Updated Feb 01, 2024
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Dorsiflexion is the anatomical expression that refers to the action of hinging one’s foot upward at the ankle or talocrural joint, lifting the dorsal or top surface of the foot so that it approaches the shin. Examples of exercises that improve performance of this movement include heel walking, seated or standing toe raises, and resistance-band work. People can incorporate uphill walking or climbing into their fitness routine to help strengthen this movement, as the foot must pull upward at a more severe angle than that required by walking on a flat surface.

The muscles that initiate this action are those that cross from the shin, or anterior lower leg, to the top of the foot: the tibialis anterior, extensor digitorum longus, extensor hallucis longus, and peroneus tertius. Upon contraction, these muscles shorten and pull upward, so exercises that train them similarly involve this upward-hinging motion. The shin muscles tend to be weaker than those of the calf, as the calf muscles are involved in everything from climbing stairs to keeping the body from falling forward when standing. As such, exercises may be required to overcome a muscle imbalance that can potentially lead to ankle joint injury.

Heel walking is an isometric exercise for the muscles of the shin, meaning that they remain contracted at a constant length throughout the duration of the movement rather than lifting and lowering the foot with each step. In other words, walking on the heels requires that the feet remain in dorsiflexion the entire time. To perform this exercise, a person can simply walk the length of a room on the heels of the feet, keeping the toes lifted as high off the floor as possible throughout the movement. One set of heel walking may require several passes of the room, keeping the feet flexed for approximately 45-60 seconds per set or until the shins fatigue.

Toe raises are another good exercise to strengthen these muscles. Performed seated or standing, they involve lifting and lowering the toes against resistance — typically gravity. Seated toe raises can be conveniently performed while sitting at a desk and can include basic lifting of the toes or more complex movements like writing the alphabet with the foot. They also can be done isometrically by wedging the toes under a heavy piece of furniture and lifting upwards against it, holding a sustained contraction of the shin muscles. Standing toe raises may be performed by standing with the heels on a step and front half of the foot hanging off, lifting and lowering the toes through the full range of dorsiflexion.

Seated resistance-band dorsiflexion is another exercise that trains the shin muscles. This exercise requires a circular resistance band, an inexpensive piece of exercise equipment that resembles a giant rubber band. Affixing one end of the band to a pole or leg of a very sturdy piece of furniture near the floor, a person can sit on the ground with feet facing the pole, legs straight, and toes pointed up toward the ceiling. Hooking the near end of the band around the tops of one or both feet, the exerciser would then dorsiflex the ankle, pulling the toes back toward the shin against the resistance of the band, and then slowly lower the toes forward again.

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