When it comes to running performance, biomechanics is at the forefoot-front. The best Alberto Salazar training tip for long distance runners is to adopt the running gait of a sprinter, which includes landing with a forefoot strike, not a heel strike –This is not a new philosophy as most of the best marathon runners are forefoot runners.
Alberto Salazar Training Tips
Salazar recently gave a vital tip on running training for beginners:
- “if you learn to run like a sprinter, you will be a great distance runner”
Salazar was referring to the foot strike pattern of a sprinter which is a forefoot strike. Most recreational runners however, heel strike, but elite distance runners, including the ones coached by Salazar are mostly forefoot strikers.
Most sprinters land on their forefoot, not their heels. However, Salazar, a 3 time New York City Marathon winner and a 1 time Boston Marathon winner, was a heel strike-shuffler who cut his running career short due to a cocktail of chronic injuries.
I and others wonder if Salazar’s running career would have be much longer had he been a forefoot striker. The high impact nature of heel strike running certainly has been known to interrupt training.
When did Salazar come to realize that forefoot is best?
Unlike many non-African elite distance runners, the smooth, effortless stride of many Ethiopian distance runners is attributed to a forefoot running style. Why do Ethiopian distance runners run like this? Because of running barefoot. All Ethiopian children run barefoot, for obvious reasons and barefoot running is the solution to better biomechanical efficiency for both walking and running.
Essentially, Salazar wanted his athletes to run like the Ethiopian runners, with a forefoot strike, not a heel strike. Salazar also incorporates barefoot running drills as part of his athletes training regiment since barefoot running enhances forefoot strike mechanics.
Forefoot Running is Safer
- Braking and impact is higher in heel strike running and contributes to common running injuries such as runners knee and shin splints.
Forefoot running also reduces ground contact time. The less time the foot spends on the ground, the better the chances of avoiding injury.
- “After foot strike, the foot needs to pop up quickly off the ground, up to the butt, the legs cannot trail behind” Salazar explained.
Moreover, Salazar places less emphasis on a high knee drive and instead, recommends lifting the foot up off the ground under, or behind the body to allow forward momentum when running.
The Take Home Message
Thanks to Salazar’s insight on forefoot running as well as the work by Dr. Lieberman, more research is putting the spotlight on forefoot running because the exchange of momentum with the body and ground is lower than in heel strike running.
Nevertheless, coaches like Salazar, who recognize that humans were meant to run forefoot, has important implications for understanding the mechanics of forefoot running and its role in injury prevention.
More on the Benefits of Forefoot Running:
Bobbert, MF., Schamhardt, HC., Nigg. BM. (1991). Calculation of vertical ground reaction force estimates during running from positional data. J Biomech 24, 1095-105.
Cavanagh, PR and Lafortune, MA. (1980). Ground reaction forces in distance running. J Biomech 13, 397-406.
Laughton, C., Davis, IM., and Hamill, J. (2014). Effect of Strike Pattern and Orthotic Intervention on Tibial Shock During Running. J Appl Biomech 19 (2).
Lieberman et al. (2010). Foot strike patterns and collision forces in habitually barefoot versus shod runners. Nature 463, 531-535
Pohl, MB., Hamill, J and Davis, IS. (2000). Biomechanical and anatomic factors associated with a history of plantar fasciitis in female runners. Clin J Sport Med 9, 372-6.
McClay, I and Williams, D. Lower extremity mechanics in a converted forefoot strike pattern in runners. (1998). North American Congress on Biomechanics.
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.