What if Our Ancestors Were Heel Strikers?

It is a known fact our ancestors ran barefoot for long distances to hunt food, but researchers try to figure out how our ancestors ran without getting injured.

Our barefoot/minimalist running ancestors ran in a way that kept injuries away. This would mean that our ancestors were not heel strikers like most joggers are today.

If our ancestors were heel strikers
As hunters and gatherers, we ran, but not in the running shoes we are all familiar with. We ran barefoot, or in thin materials that lacked support, and did not suffer injuries.

If Our Ancestors Were Heel Strikers

Today, the scale of running injuries is so large, it is hard to believe our ancestors relied on running to eat, and therefore survive.  How come they ran uninjured, but many of us cannot?  Scientists think the answer is in the foot strike.

Though, many runners today run in shoes, there are millions of people in other countries such as Kenya and Ethiopia, who run barefoot.  When you break it down, many runners who wear shoes typically heel strike whereas many barefoot runners forefoot strike when they run.
heel strike running peak impact
More recently, scientists have focused on impact production in the two foot strikes and found that heel striking produces a peak force that is absent in a forefoot strike.

  • the absence of the peak force in a forefoot strike allows barefoot running to feel more comfortable than running barefoot on the heel, especially on asphalt.

Given that almost 75% of joggers sustain at least one running-related injury per year, and most joggers heel strike, if our ancestors were heel strikers, perhaps they too would have be plagued with injury.  If that were the case, the human species may have died off.

These findings suggest our ancestors were most likely forefoot strikers given the magnitude of impact reduction compared to heel strike running.  Could this be why so many runners today get injured? Are we supposed to be running on our forefoot, not our heels?

  • if running-related injuries were a result of heel striking, one would expect that injury rates would drop if heel strikers switched to a forefoot strike.
  • emerging studies have found that runners who properly adopted a forefoot strike running style had a significant reduction in compartmental pressures of the lower leg.

The Take Home Message

Though, running-related injury is a multi-factorial problem, but is it really? Our ancestors had no concept of biomechanics therefore, there were no pre-run warm ups, pre-run stretches, and drills for running.  Our ancestors just ran, and may have been evolutionary programed to run like many birds are evolutionary programmed to fly.

If our ancestors were forefoot strikers, such findings may have important consequences for runners today by informing us on how we really should be running.

More on Why You Should Switch to a Forefoot Running:

If you want more tips on forefoot running, or if you have related questions, head on over to the Run Forefoot Facebook Page, it’s the place you’ll want to be!

Run Forefoot, you are faster than you think!

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

P.S. Don't forget to check out the Run Forefoot Facebook Page, it's a terrific place to ask questions about forefoot running, barefoot running and injury. I'm always happy to help!

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