Aim for More Foot Plantar Flexion When Running

Many heel strike runners who switch to forefoot running don’t have enough foot plantar flexion at touchdown. This is because heel strike runners habitually use foot dorsiflexion at touchdown to heel strike. The reverse occurs at touchdown in forefoot running.

Foot Plantar Flexion
In forefoot running, foot plantar flexion at landing helps reduce impact by smoothing the collision force between the body and the ground.

Aim for More Foot Plantar Flexion When Running

A study by Williams et al. found that runners who switched from heel strike to forefoot running had reduced plantar flexion of the foot at touchdown compared to habitual forefoot runners.

Aside from that, there were no differences in other lower leg kinematic variables between the newly transitioned forefoot runners and the habitual forefoot runners; the trouble spot is with the amount of foot plantarflexion upon landing.

  • As a result of reduced ankle plantar flexion, the newly transitioned forefoot runners had subsequent increased knee extension moment (torque) compared to the habitual forefoot runners.

Other findings have found that high knee extension moments in running makes the knee more vulnerable to injury.

The findings imply that increasing ankle plantar flexion at touchdown during forefoot running allows for better knee flexion and therefore, less knee extension moments. Therefore, the findings also imply a direct mechanical link with coupling motion of the foot, the foot/ankle complex and the knee.

The researchers concluded that even though the heel strike runners were able to run with a forefoot strike does not suggest they fully adopted the forefoot running technique on account of reduced ankle plantar flexion.

How to Increase Ankle Plantar Flexion when Forefoot Running

2 target strategies to increase ankle plantar flexion when forefoot running are 1. zero-drop minimalist running shoes, or run barefoot and 2. don’t lift your forefoot back before striking the ground with your foot.

Can running shoes affect learning forefoot running? Running shoes with a large heel-toe differential facilitates ankle dorsiflexion over plantar flexion.

Because ankle plantar flexion is a natural human activity during barefoot running, the foot needs to be flat relative the ground. That is, the best way to mimic barefoot conditions is by running in barefoot-like running shoes that have a 0 mm heel-toe differential.

The next step is to visualize or feel having no control over your forefoot and let it fall out of the sky to the ground thereby reprogramming your foot/ankle complex to eliminate dorsiflexion at touchdown. Focus your mind on the cue of relaxing your entire foot. Improvement occurs only with practice and repetition.

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References:

Williams DS., McClay, IS and Manal, KT. Lower extremity mechanics in runners with a converted forefoot strike pattern. J Appl Biomech, 2000, 16, 210-18.


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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

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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