Improper running technique and injury derives from high-tech running shoes with thickly cushioned heels, causing runners to strike the ground on the heel with more force compared to habitual barefoot runners:

 

Hello, I’m Bretta Riches, founder of Run Forefoot. I research biomechanics, specifically foot strike mechanics of forefoot running. I am an avid minimalist, forefoot runner who was once a heel striker. I launched Run Forefoot to help others understand and learn forefoot running.

Bretta Riches author of Run Forefoot

Bretta Riches, founder of Run Forefoot. From chronically injured heel striker, on the verge of giving up on running, until I saw Tirunesh Dibaba, and noticed she was a forefoot striker, who ran barefoot.

Ethiopian Runners

The effortless forefoot strike running style of Ethiopian elite distance runners, Tirunesh Dibaba and Kenenisa Bekele fuels my interest in foot strike mechanics. Unlike most joggers, Dibaba and Bekele are forefoot strikers and ran barefoot in their earlier years, which most likely accounts for their forefoot strike running style.

Ethiopian runners forefoot strike running technique

Tirunesh Dibaba and her sisters, as well as Haile Gebrselassie ran barefoot as youngsters and run with a forefoot strike.

With regards to foot strike, I have been on both sides of the fence. When I began running, I was a heel striker, always sore, battling injuries to the point where I had difficulty walking.

After intensive research on biomechanics, I found that the scientific literature painted a grim picture of heel striking running, implicating that this style of running is the underlying cause of most running-related injuries.

Statistically speaking, running injuries in habitually forefoot strike running populations were either very low, or rare, demonstrating that a forefoot strike provides better impact protection than a heel strike when running.

Lastly, I became inspired by Dibaba’s forefoot running style which motivated me to learn forefoot running.

Run Safer

Although my transition to forefoot running certainly did not happen over night, as a forefoot striker, my landings are softer, regardless of surface hardness, running feels easier, more natural, I flow.

Though I am far from elite status, having adopted a forefoot strike allows me to run consistently with great results, without discomfort and injury.

Bretta-Riches-Run-Forefoot

My Goal at Run Forefoot

I want to share my past transition process with you and provide key information from the scientific literature that helped me along the way.  And, I want aspiring forefoot runners to learn from my mistakes by avoiding the ‘too much, too soon’ pitfall.

Nevertheless, my goal is to advocate the importance of running with a forefoot strike and raise awareness on the potential health harming effects of  heel strike running.

Finally, by showing that forefoot running is safe and easy to learn, I hope to inspire more people to run and banish the false perception that running is ‘dangerous’. Less pain, more gain with forefoot running.

If It’s not Broke, Don’t Fix it

Do whatever works for you. In my opinion, I believe the human form was designed to run with a forefoot strike, not a heel strike. Again, that is just my opinion which is certainly biased based on my bad experience with heel striking.

Many runners believe runners aren’t built for ‘this and that’ and that is fine, to each their own. However, I also believe that if you are a heel striker, or a midfoot striker who has never been injured, keep doing what you are doing. But, for those who are chronically injured, adopting a forefoot strike might be a sensible alternative to consider.

So What About You?

What are your thoughts on this post? Were you impacted? Looking forward to hearing from you!

More From Run Forefoot:



References:

Harrison, PC and Davis, IS. Gait retraining to reduce lower extremity loading in runners. Clin Biomech (2010); 26: 74-83.

Bretta Riches

"I believe the forefoot strike is the engine of endurance running..."

BSc (HONS) Neurobiology; MSc Biomechanics candidate, running geek, founder of Run Forefoot.com. I was a heel striker, always injured. I was inspired by the great Tirunesh Dibaba to try forefoot running. Now, running feels natural,easier, and I'm injury free.I launched Run Forefoot.com to advocate the potential benefits of forefoot running and raise awareness on the potential dangers of heel striking.
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13 Comments on Learn Forefoot Running

  1. silver fox // 29/07/2014 at 9:01 pm // Reply

    very well written BUT need personal training , do u give private lessons?

  2. Yes,I do! But, I like to do a video analysis for free as well!

  3. Jimmy Montgomery // 06/11/2014 at 11:55 am // Reply

    Hi Bretta. I wanted to ask if when your forefoot lands, do you contract the calf muscles (if that’s the right word to use) to soften your landing and lower your heel to the ground? Or do you keep the calf muscles relaxed, thus allowing your foot to fully compress when it lands?

    My foot doesn’t fully compress when it lands as my heel just kisses the ground lightly, due to me using my calf muscles to lower my heel down and I’m not sure if this is correct. Could you please advise me on this. Thanks. Jimmy.

    • Hi Jimmy!

      To soften my landing I actually bend my knees more and fully relax my calves. I make it a point to do nothing with my calves because when engaging the calves too much, engages the soleus muscles too, which eventually strains the Achilles.

      Sometimes the solution is in the knees because the more you bend the knees or sink into your stride as I call it, the more likely you will land forefoot first and heel last. If you watch Farah and Dibaba, both of them really bend their knees and have longer strides too -this doesn’t mean they’re over-striding, they just ‘open’ their stride a bit more rather than taking short, choppy steps like some Pose Runners do. No offense to Pose, I learned a lot from it. But, Dibaba, Farah, Rupp etc. have different stride characteristics that allow for a much softer landing when running at any speed.

      When I bend my knee’s more, not too much, you will know the right amount of bend at the knee because the ground will feel softer on your legs, coupled with opening up my stride a little, really helped soften my landing.

      Do you mean that your heel catches the ground before your forefoot?

      I appreciate your question! Hope this helps!
      -Bretta

  4. Jimmy Montgomery // 09/11/2014 at 5:24 pm // Reply

    Thanks Bretta, that’s a great answer and very helpful. Thanks for taking the time to reply, it’s very much appreciated.

  5. Bruce Scholz // 25/11/2014 at 5:35 am // Reply

    Does running uphill or downhill effect your foot strike in a negative way where it just can’t be avoided?

    • In forefoot running, uphill is easier than downhill. It’s easier to maintain a forefoot strike when running uphill because the incline allows you to make initial contact on your forefoot easier as you can imagine heel striking uphill would be very challenging mechanically.

      Downhill running is the problem because it affects global biomechanics, in addition to footstrike.

      Runners have the habit of leaning back with their torso and lifting the toes back upon footstrike to avoid speeding up. However, this increases braking.

      There really is no way around avoiding speeding up when running downhill. Its best just to go with the hill and surge until you reach ground level.

      Ultimately, downhill running causes you to lift your forefoot back upon footstrike, so at footstrike, your forefoot slaps the ground harder and the slapping of the forefoot with the ground increases intramuscular pressures of the lower leg, causing leg pain or shin splints. And lifting the forefoot may also encourage a heel strike landing!

      To avoid this, don’t lift your forefoot back upon footstrike when running downhill. Instead, do nothing with your forefoot and let it fall down to the ground. Many runners don’t realize they are lifting their forefoot back before they strike the ground because it is such a simple action, however it can cause leg pain over time if it becomes habituated.

      Hope this helps! Thanks for the question.

      Bretta.

  6. Bruce Scholz // 26/11/2014 at 6:37 am // Reply

    Thanks Miss Bretta…

  7. Hello Miss Riches

    I’m from Brazil and I just want to comment that I saw a video which showed Ryan Hall and Meb Keflezighi running’s technique.

    I was surprised to see that Keflezighi is a heel strike runner, because he came from Africa, and all african runners (or most of all) are forefoot strikers.

    Hall has a better technique and, if I’m not wrong, he is faster than Keflezighi. But his results are not as good as Keflezighi’s. Can anyone explain that?

    • Hi Mauricio!

      Im also very surprised that Meb was/is a heel striker having been born in Africa. But of course, his heel strike style has negatively impacted his career because he struggled a great deal with injuries when he was with Nike. His performance suffered as a result, even though he did do well in the New York City Marathon(s), but performance wise, he still came up short and unfortunately was dropped by Nike.

      At least now with Skechers, Meb promotes a non-heel strike (midfoot) style -sometimes he heel strikes, but I don’t think his heel strike is as pronounced as it was when he was with Nike. Meb’s stride is much shorter now and I think because he eliminated some of the heel strike-related mechanics, allows him to injure less and he can train more, and when he can train more, he can train harder and produce better results, consistently.

      Hall definitely has a better, more finesse technique simply because he didn’t start off as a heel striker and therefore, I don’t think Hall has endured the high amount of injuries as Meb.

      But when comparing performance between the two, I think for Hall, his recent ‘under-performances’ was/is in the coaching, or lack thereof because he was coachless for a long time.

      When Hall was at the top of his game, he was a 2:04 marathoner and Meb is still 4 minutes behind Hall. Even though Meb has changed his technique a little, he is still a 2:08 marathoner compared to Hall.

      I know that Hall disappeared for a while, training in Kenya without a coach, and at the elite level, in my opinion, you need all the coaching you can get!!!

      Between 2011 and 2014, Hall went back-and-forth with being self-coached and he referred to it as faith-based coaching -this probably set him for his 2:17 at Boston this year. That’s my opinion on Hall and Meb.

      I hope Hall can get to a better place with his performance because his form is solid and theoretically, he is more efficient than Meb, but Hall’s performance output seemed to decline when he was coachless. Either way, a 2:04 for a non-African is pretty solid and is reflected in how Hall runs for sure.

      Thanks for your comment and question!

      Bretta

  8. Rubens Levy Francisco // 16/12/2014 at 3:18 pm // Reply

    Bretta, I should like to take this opportunity to thank you in public, so that other readers of your blog can appreciate as much as I do how wonderful a person you are! Your support and useful information are helping me become the great runner I am supposed to be !! Thank you from the core of my heart ! Rubens, 47, Belo Horizonte, Brazil.

  9. Hello Bretta

    I didn’t realize that Ryan Hall was training by himself, I think that tells a lot about his performance.

    I’d like to say that since I started running I allways had been a heel strike and now I’m changing to be a forefoot strike, because of my coach’s advices. He also introduced me to your blog.

    To make a forefoot run, I realised that shoes’ choice have a great influence. We tend to a heel stride when we use shoes with higher drops. And those kind of shoes is what we find the most.

    Other thing I realised is that the faster I run, more difficult is to control my stride, and then I tend to make a heel stride.

    Thanks for your answer. You’re doing a great job.

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