Learning Forefoot Running on a Treadmill

Running on a treadmill seems like a great idea when you are learning how to use a forefoot strike. However, adjusting to a new running condition, such as transitioning from heel strike to forefoot running, or from shod to barefoot running, requires a familiarization period to allow sufficient adaptation of the feet and legs. During this time, a runner may be vulnerable to injury if sufficient adaptation periods are lacking, or if forefoot running is learned incorrectly.

Things to Consider When Learning Forefoot Running on a Treadmill

Things to Consider When Forefoot Running on a Treadmill

Nevertheless, it’s always best to learn forefoot or barefoot running overground and not on a treadmill.

Learning forefoot running on a treadmill could make the familiarization period more complicated. One problem is learners of barefoot/forefoot running need time adjusting to the moving belt which may cause refinements in biomechanics to degrade.

Though, treadmills are very convenient during bad weather, which is why they are so tempting, learning forefoot/barefoot running overground is better solely because of the stability afforded by the natural ground.

Proper biomechanical adjustments rely heavily on sensory input from the plantar surface when running barefoot overground, and when sensory input is high, the body makes proper gait adjustments to avoid mechanical stress and high loading. However, the moving belt of a treadmill may increase negative gait variability, triggering injury.

A study by Moore and Dixon (2014) cautioned that inexperienced forefoot/barefoot runners should allow appropriate familiarization periods to adapt to a new running condition before running on a treadmill.

The researchers found that inexperienced barefoot runners failed to adopt a flatter foot placement when on a treadmill. They also found that inexperienced barefoot runners had more ankle angle variation during touchdown on a treadmill.

Moreover, the newly barefoot runners had less plantar flexion and more dorsiflexion at touchdown during the first 15 minutes of treadmill running.

  • The biggest problem with dorsiflexion at touchdown during running is that it increases the likelihood of both heel striking and braking.

The take home message is that treadmills may mute the natural responses to running barefoot for the first time and may result in inadequate familiarization.

Running overground promotes better gait precision, especially in footfall pattern, and kinematic stabilization possibly reducing the likelihood of injury compared to running on a treadmill.

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References:

Moore IS and Dixon SJ. Changes in sagittal plane kinematics with treadmill familiarization to barefoot running. J Biomech, 2014; 30, 626-631.

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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