Barefoot Running Improves Ankle Biomechanics

I don’t do all of my runs barefoot, but I like to run barefoot at least a few times a week before I carry out my regular runs in my minimalist shoes.  This is because running barefoot improves ankle biomechanics all-around. This is how running barefoot helps you avoid heel strike, and programs you to land squarely on your forefoot.

Running Barefoot Improved Ankle Biomechanics
Barefoot running results in less extreme heel strike in habitual-shod heel strike runners with no prior training of barefoot running.

Barefoot Running Improves Ankle Biomechanics

A forefoot strike is a distinctive landing pattern in barefoot running. But, in the absence of gait retraining, many former shod-heel strike runners often retain heel strike when running barefoot, however their heel strike is less extreme.

Barefoot running seems to place the ankles in the correct order of positioning that results in a less pronounced heel strike. Comparatively, a study by Williams et al. 2014 noted that if a runner is not an habitual forefoot runner, than switching from shod-heel strike running to barefoot running won’t always encourage a forefoot strike, however the switch does encourage ankle kinematics similar to forefoot running that allows heel strike to be less extreme.

The study found when habitual shod heel strikers ran barefoot, most maintained heel strike, but showed less ankle dorsiflexion.

  • Less ankle dorsiflexion usually corresponds with less power of absorption, or loading on the knee, confirming the casual link between barefoot running and reduced knee loads.

The reverse occurs when a thickly, cushioned heeled running shoe is worn during running.

  • Under heel cushioning drives an extreme heel strike via its effects on increased ankle dorsiflexion and knee extension.

Overall, the findings point to a strong association between a less pronounced heel strike and barefoot running and that barefoot running is a reliable source of sharpening foot strike mechanics compared to the standard running shoe.
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Williams et al. Changes in lower extremity movement and power of absorption during forefoot striking and barefoot running. IJSPT, 2015; 7(5): 525-532.

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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