Bretta Riches

Bretta Riches

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

BSc Neurobiology; MSc Biomechanics candidate, ultra minimalist runner & founder of RunForefoot. I was a heel striker, always injured. I was inspired by the great Tirunesh Dibaba to try forefoot running. Now, I'm injury free. This is why I launched Run Forefoot, to advocate the health & performance benefits of forefoot running and to raise awareness on the dangers of heel striking, because the world needs to know.
Bretta Riches

45 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.

    • No problem! Thanks for the question and good luck!!

      • Graham Aldrich // 02/02/2015 at 6:44 pm // Reply

        Hi Bretta, I can associate with Jimmy’s question above. I am currently a heel striker but I know I need to change as I’ve had a stress fracture in the past and I’ve currently got a little tenderness in that area again now. I am a believer in forefoot striking, I just need to transition to it. In the past it has put a lot of strain on my calves. I think this is because I was tensing the calf muscles too early to try to ensure my forefoot was lower than my heel at the time of landing (like pointing my toes). I then impacted with an already tense calf – not good. I think that’s called eccentric contraction. Therefore I value your comments about knee flexion and I’ll try to incorporate this.

        • Hey Graham,

          Thanks for your comment and question! Calf strain is by far the most common soreness related to transitioning of forefoot running, and in the beginning, your calves will feel blow-torched.

          Most of the calf pain is directly related to how the foot interacts with the ground, primarily, what you do with your toes during footfall. As you said, you pointed your toes too much. The best way to overcome calf pain is to forget about what your feet are doing -remove all focus from your feet and let them instinctively fall to the ground. This mostly involves trusting your body to land properly on the forefoot which will happen properly because a forefoot landing is reflexive and happens naturally anyway.

          Another mistake that causes calf soreness is using your toes to propel your body forward, and heel strikers are notorious for this. In heel striking, at the end of the foot-rollover phase, the toes are used to push, or propel the body forward. Many heel strikers carry this action over when they switch to forefoot running. For me, this was my problem -I maintained the habit of using my toes/forefoot for propulsion.

          To correct for this, Pose Running suggests removing the foot from the ground by tuning into the feeling of your ankle and let the ankle pull the foot up off the ground. This removes all conscious thought about what your feet are doing, allowing the feet to have a more passive role which spares the calves of strain. Sometimes tuning into your knees, such as bending them more, helps add more spring to your step thereby allowing the foot to pop-off the ground better. The ultimate goal is to get your feet relaxed at all times when forefoot running by not over-controlling their movement.

          Hope this helps, let me know if you need some more help!
          Bretta.

  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.

    • Hi Maricio,

      Yeah, pretty shocking about Ryan Hall, no coaching = no performance gains.

      That’s great you decided to switch to forefoot running and your coach encourages it too.

      And you are completely right, it is the shoe that heavily influences foot strike! And of course, running barefoot a little bit per day can be the best way to ‘reset’ and reprogram the body to run properly by avoiding heel strike.

      As for controlling your stride at faster speeds when forefoot running, running fast with a new technique will feel very new to the body and is why you have these difficulties controlling and maintaining good form. But eventually with practice, forefoot running at faster speeds will feel more familiar, helping you gain better control over your stride.

      Thanks for your reply and good luck with your training. I wish you all the best!!!!

      Happy forefoot running,

      Bretta

  10. I’m a forefoot runner, after learning to run right this past year.
    I am wondering what the the wear making on my shoe’s should look like.

  11. Kevin Purvis // 24/01/2015 at 7:45 am // Reply

    Here is a more recent position by Dr. Lieberman along with different a perspective on improving performance and minimizing injury. Check paragraph 5. I enjoyed your blog and continue to look at all positions and research concerning run form.

    http://www.runnersworld.com/injury-prevention-recovery/its-all-in-the-hips

  12. Khaled Ghellal // 04/02/2015 at 5:32 am // Reply

    Hi Bretta,

    Just discovered your excellent website!
    I have been a natural forefoot/midfoot runner for decades
    and also love barefoot training sessions in summer.
    I read your piece about downhill running and would like to share some thoughts and insights that I have gathered!
    I engage my lower abs more and contact the ground with a soft midfoot strike, keeping ground/ support time very short and also rotate my hips from T12-L1!
    This allows for a smooth ride, letting gravity lead you down any slope almost effortlessly.
    It sure takes some amount of practice and body awareness, but I think that’s exactly what makes running so satisfying and special!

    Cheers from Germany, KG

  13. Great site! Quick question – I recenly had a cheilectomy on both feet. I’ve been reading how to get back into running and have read mostly to look for shoes with stiff insoles or forefoot rockers. Any tips on this front? I love running barefoot, but think that using Vibrams was one of the main culprits of my injuries. Thanks for any advice!

    • Hi Bori,
      Thanks for your comment and question! As for shoes, you want a zero-drop shoe that ‘feels’ hard and not soft and squishy. At the same time, the shoe needs to be flexible: Vibram (sorry to hear you had trouble with VFF), Merrell’s barefoot-line, New Balance Minimus are great examples of zero-drop shoes that have harder midsoles.

      Avoid rocker shoes because they prevent you from learning the right technique on your own. You can’t rely on the shoe to do all the work for you in terms of developing the right forefoot running technique. I know rocker shoes are marketed
      to help ‘guide’ your forefoot strike — there’s no proven science behind their claims. And rocker shoes weigh more because of the ‘added shoe technology’, which slows you down.

      I am glad you love running barefoot, so if you are able to, run barefoot as much as you can, but depending on where you live, running barefoot can be a challenge. If you don’t like the Vibrams, try Earth Runners Sandals or Huarache-inspired running sandals. I personally love Vibram and only run in them, but my next choice and I think most barefoot runners would agree too are the running sandals. However, if it’s cold where you are, Vivobarefoot is pretty good too.

      Just remember, if you love running barefoot, you need to find a shoe that closely approximates the barefoot experience, which includes avoiding wearing running shoes with compressible material in the sole. The shoe needs to feel firm under your feet, similar to how the ground feels when you are barefoot.

      Hope this helps! Let me know how you make out!

      ~Bretta

  14. dixon hemphill // 20/02/2015 at 2:46 pm // Reply

    I also believe running on ones toes is the better way however I switched from heel to forefoot striker 6 months ago and soon after developed plantar fasciitis. I’m certain switching caused the problem. Any comments?

  15. Dixon Hemphill, By wearing very protective running shoes, characterized by internal and external supports, the foot completely loses its intrinsic capacity of having a dialogue with the ground. That capacity can be recovered with patience by walking barefoot at home first and then outside preferring hard surfaces in order to awake the sole receptors and restore the ground-brain dialogue. When barefoot walking let fall the foot on the external edge with at the end a full contact heel-ground always paying much attention that ankle and foot be very relaxed. I also suggest some very simple exercises; barefoot walking backwards (very important: full heel-ground relaxed final contact), barefoot lateral walking in both directions (full heel-ground), walking forward by crossing the legs (right foot lands on the left of left foot, left foot lands on the right of right foot, ..). These exercises help relaxe hips, legs, ankles and feet and make easier adopt the new walking pattern: a gentle body slope, the right foot lands under the body, full heel-ground relaxed contact, right knee bent and relaxed, then left knee moves relaxed forwards and horinzontally pulling the left ankle and foot both relaxed.
    Once you have mastered this new barefoot walking pattern, you can pass to running: the technique is the same.

  16. Hi Bretta! just want to know if you have any recommendation for flat foot…i have flat feet, specially my left foot wich is rotated inwards more pronounced than my right foot, and i have some pain (not much). I just switched to forefoot running. Any recommendation for me? excersises i can do to help my condition?

    Thanks a lot for your great blog!

    Gabriel

    • Hi Gabriel,
      Thanks for your question and feedback!!
      The best way to improve flat feet is by walking barefoot on uneven surfaces as much as possible or performing weight-bearing activities barefooted (for example, if you lift weights at home, do so barefooted).

      There are 4 muscle groups that controls the lowering and raising of the arch. The only proven way to strengthen these muscles is by increasing intrinsic muscle tone which can only be achieved through sensory stimulation of the bottoms of the feet when walking barefoot, particularly on uneven surfaces. To turn ‘on’ the arch muscles, the mechanoreceptors, along with other sensory receptors, need to be activated, or stimulated. In other words, the nerves of the feet need to be stimulated in order to get the arch muscles ‘twitching’ to develop muscle tone for better foot strength and function.

      In shoes, sensory receptors send less stably signals thereby limiting the capacity for regeneration of better nerve tracts needed for arch muscle stimulation.

      Hope this helps and let me know how you make out!
      Thanks again!
      Bretta

  17. Hi having read thus I rLy want to change to forefoot running but how??

  18. Alexander // 30/04/2015 at 10:53 pm // Reply

    I am a believer in forefoot running! I discovered it one day by observing my pet dog’s hind legs. For me this is the only way to run/walk/stand!

    • Hi Alexander,
      I am glad you made the point about your dog’s foot strike pattern! I think all 4-legged animals land more anterior on their paws/feet/hooves etc, which in part, makes their stride smooth.

  19. In the youtube video, although the heel may briefly touch the ground, it is inconsequential as most of the weight strikes initially on the outside ball of the foot and the push off is ALL on the ball of the foot. This is much closer to sprint mechanics and is the way virtually all elite 800m runners run. However, anything longer than a 1500m, the heel will touch and bear some weight. I am a 200/400m sprinter and always strike on the ball during workouts and the injuries I had running road races have disappeared.

    • Hi ConcertG,
      Thank you for making the distinction in forefoot landing patterns between short and long distance runners. This is very true. As soon as I learned to land on the balls of my feet, my injuries vanished as well. I always find myself landing ball-heel during longer runs, and my heel might kiss the ground slight, if not at all, when doing speed work.

  20. Hi Bretta,

    I heard your interview in youtube PR81. I listened to the audiobook “Born to Run” last year and got inspired to make the transcition to go barefoot. I’m not there yet, but I started to run in New Balance Minimus shoes and so far feels good. Its been 3 months and I’m still adjusting and learning and I know I have more to adjust and learn. My plan is to transcition to Vibran five finger and someday bare foot…but I have a way to go and lots to learn. All advice is welcome. Thank you for your research and for sharing your knowledge. Mike from Chicago.

  21. Hi Bretta

    Nice Blog! I have always been a heel striker and have started transitioning to forefoot strike over the last months. I am already starting to see a great difference, it seems so much more natural to run on forefoot.
    However, I have had sore ankles and knees for the last weeks. Not outright pain but still sore. Is this what you experienced when you transitioned? Any ideas what to do to?

    Thanks
    Dom

  22. Hi Bretta. Love your YouTube videos. Great instruction. I am finishing up gait retraining at Spaulding rehab hospital in Cambridge. They have a top research lab specializing in barefoot etc. pain free for first time in my life (aside from some totally smoked calves initially). Awesome

    P.s. I am completely crushing on you… :)

    • Hi Ben,
      Awe, thank you so much for the compliment. Im glad you like my Youtube videos. I plan on making lots more, in more detail.

      I am glad to hear of a lab that specializes in barefoot training. I should check that out! Nothing but good things will come from barefoot/pure-minimalist running!

      I know about the calf pain, it’s brutal, but it’s part of the process and they will start to feel better before you know it. Then you will have nice diamond-shaped calves 😀 I would like to know more about this research lab!

      How long have you been running?

      Thanks for the comment and visiting, come back soon 😀
      Bretta

      • Its Spaulding National Running Center in Cambridge – awesome staff. The first session is a 2 hr eval w/all sorts of nutso equipment – pressure plate treadmill, cameras, bio feedback etc. The first few weeks of PT were focused on drills and strengthening core + lower legs, then gradual running.

        http://www.runsnrc.org/

        I ran distance in college, just started up again last year but trying sprints now. When stress fracture seemed like it was coming back went to Spaulding. Knock on wood all good so far!

        Keep up the good work Bretta

  23. Hello,
    Thank you for such in-depth insight into forefoot running. I recently made the transition. And of course, my calves are revolting.
    Anyway, I bought the Nike Pegasus 31s while I was still a heel-striker. What I want to know is, is it still okay to forefoot strike in them? The Pegasus is quite cushy with a considerable heel; not minimalist for sure. Buying a new pair so soon would really make me poor. So, any thoughts?

    • Hi Anirudh,

      Embrace the calf pain, it’s a good thing! Congrats on transitioning, too! Personally, I would avoid the Nike’s, I know they may feel really comfortable, but its because of the comfort they provide that causes a lot of problems. Mainly because when soft, squishy cushioning is placed under the foot, the knees don’t respond properly in terms of giving the right amount of flexion to help cushion your foot strike. This is why the most common report on barefoot-running shoes is that they improve knee pain.

      I know ultra minimalist shoes feel uncomfortable at first, but your feet just need to time adjust to the added sensory traffic. Over time, the feet become less hyper-sensitive to the ground, allowing for greater comfort.

      Hope this helps and thanks for your comment and question!

      Bretta Riches

  24. Hi Bretta,
    Thanks for such a quick reply.
    I went through a couple of posts on your blog regarding correct forefoot running shoes and I’ll annoy you with just one more question. Here in India I checked for all the shoes you mentioned and the only one available is the Nike FS Lite Run 2. Do you think I should go for them? And the Nike Free 5s are a complete no-no, right?

    • Hi Anirudh,
      Don’t ever hesitate to ask a question! That’s one of the reasons I started Run Forefoot. With that said, I should probably set up a forum. Anyways, the Nike Free 5.0-3.0 are a no-no for sure. The Nike FS lite is the most protective I would go –you dont want any more cushioning than that. I feel the Nike FS and the Skora shoes are the ‘upper limit’ in terms of cushion quantity. Also check out the Nike Free Cross Bionic — I think this is Nike’s most minimalist shoe. Other than that, the Nike Free 5.0 should not be advertised as a minimalist shoe. They may be ideally flexible, but they have way too much cushioning under the heel.

      Hope this helps!! Good luck with your shoe shopping. Let me know how you make out 😀

  25. Hi Bretta! I have problems with both my feet with the posterior tibial tendon and the area around it. Do you have any exercises that can help or is this a problem because of bad running technique? I have run barefoot in in 2 years and i really like it. Its my foot and also the inner knee as i have ploblems with.

    • Hi Thomas,
      Try to keep your knees and feet pointed straight when you run. This will give you better lower leg alignment. Sometimes the knee may point inwards throughout the gait cycle, which can unleash many tendon problems. So, try to make sure your toes are oriented in the direction you are running and I bet this will remove load off the tendon.
      Let me know how you make out!
      Bretta.

  26. David Robinson // 27/08/2015 at 11:50 am // Reply

    Hi Bretta,

    Contrary to popular teachings, I believe this technique is also optimal for sprinters. In a “sprint on your toes” model, the impact of the foot strike is all taken on the front of the foot. What most coaches don’t realize is, this impact must be absorbed by the calf muscles. This takes a longer period of time for the calf to absorb the shock, and then rebound to propel the athlete forward. In contrast, with a forefoot strike, allowing the heel to strike the ground, the ground acts as the shock absorber, and actually “bounces” the foot back into the proper position to propel the foot forward faster than the calf muscle takes to do so. In essence, the foot should be thought of similar to a wheel on a car, where the foot “rolls” through the foot strike. Additionally, something I think needs to be mentioned is that many athletes “drop” the foot to the ground and then try to “push” through the foot strike. This is incorrect technique, and causes higher ground contact time, slowing the runner. The best analogy I’ve heard is a hammer and nail. You don’t drop the hammer to the nail and then try to push the nail down. You accelerate the hammer from the apex of the arc, driving the hammer through the nail. Similarly, the foot should be accelerated from the top of the knee drive downwards through the ground using the hip flexor. (A stomping motion using the calf is incorrect.) The heel should then be returned immediately to the buttocks as soon as the “snap” through the ground is completed. Also, prior to the foot strike, the foot should be dorsiflexed, This causes the calf muscle to be pre-stretched, which causes a rebound like snapping motion through the ground.

    • Hi David,
      I really loved your hammer/nail analogy! Most runners still have that urge to stomp as well as push, which is such a problem, especially pushing as I feel is the main cause of Achilles and calf injury –yet, most will blame the forefoot strike pattern. Snapping the heel back up to the buttocks is another great tip too. As for dorsiflexion prior to touchdown, I’ve heard conflicting reports on it, but that’s regarding injuries. I haven’t really come across studies on it in terms of elastic energy recovery, but thank you very much for sharing your knowledge!!

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