Is Heel Strike Running Less Efficient? YES!

Heel strike running not only makes you highly injury-prone, it is uneconomical because it causes too much vertical oscillation (a fancy term for too much bouncing up and down when you run) than forefoot running, which is proven to restrain your entire mechanics in a safer range, including minimizing vertical oscillation.

In running, landing heel-first was found to be very uneconomical because heel striking is always accompanied by too much vertical oscillation, which results in an array of forces burdening the body that are stronger than the forces acting on the body in forefoot running.

Running with a bounce, again also known as vertical oscillation, was found to be a major risk factor for injury whereby studies show that too much of the wrong type of bounce, which is directly influenced by foot strike pattern, can heavily effect running economy, too!

Why Too Much Bounce is Bad for Running

Both forefoot running and heel strike running involves bouncing, however if you run with a heel strike, you will bounce more whereby the more vertical oscillation during running, the more energy wasted. For example, a study in the journal, Medicine and Science in Sports and  Exercise, discovered that runners who ran with a pronounced bounce were less mechanically efficient since the legs needed to work harder to push the upper body higher up off the ground, thereby performing more work against gravity.

What’s so interesting is related studies suggest that bouncing when running is not as bad as previously thought such that the type of bounce measured in forefoot running was found to save energy than the type of bounce in heel strike running.

Case in point, a study in Scientific Reports identified 2 types of bouncing gaits in running: elastic bounce and muscular bounce whereby an elastic bounce is associated with a forefoot strike and a muscular bounce is associated with a heel strike.

  • Similar data in Comp Biomech Physiol A Mol Integr Physiol, reported  an elastic bounce provided greater energetic efficiency over a muscular bounce, proving forefoot running saves more energy than heel strike running.

Why Forefoot Running’s Elastic Bounce is Better

In running, an elastic bounce is powered by the elastic contributions of the Achilles tendon, and is only enhanced with forefoot striking, whereby according to reports in the Annuals of the New York Academy of Science revealed that in a forefoot strike, elastic energy storage and recovery is greater as a function of the relative length changes in the Achilles tendon per step. The researchers also found that elastic contributions in running results in savings in energy costs by 20%-25%!

Forefoot striking reduces force

Clearly, forefoot running makes your Achilles tendon function and work properly, letting the tendon work the way it should as an energy-saving spring.  This is why I like to say that we are meant for forefoot running because its the only style of running that perfectly matches the function of the elastic structures of the lower leg, and there is no counter- evidence against this. But, there is loads of evidence showing that muscular bounce in heel strike running is a huge energy leak! Here’s why:

How Muscular Bouncing Drains Energy

Over-engaging your muscles when running is very energetically costly on the basic basis of muscles just need more energy to work, whereby in heel strike running the leg muscles, and less of the Achilles tendon, contributes to a muscular bounce initiated by the propulsive phase shortly after heel strike.

What’s worse, the heavy burst in collisional impact that’s always produced at heel strike was found to impede elastic bouncing, while producing excessive compressive loads, braking with the ground and surface forces, which all leads to progressive degeneration of the knee and lower back!

This is why heel striking is a technique that does not consistently work well for running because it also causes an exaggerated pendulum-like gait (shown below), which results in lunging strides where the body is propelled using the forefoot. These lunging strides place significantly more demands on the musculature of the lower legs and feet.

The unusual prolonged braking phase distinct to heel strike running also reduces elastic contributions of the lower leg, thereby reducing elastic bouncing.

The Take Home Message

This data makes it more fully understood why forefoot running is safer and more efficient than heel strike running, and that the real potential to run your best is in your foot strike.

The evidence is clear that forefoot running is the best way to get the Achilles tendon to work more effectively, while bringing down net impact, whereas there’s overwhelming evidence with high confidence that heel strike running has accompanying mechanical displacements that runs counter to both gravity and the elastic mechanisms in the lower leg. These aren’t the only diminishing returns of heel strike running, here are more evidence-based examples showing why heel strike running is the most dangerous, un-economical way to run!

If you’ve enjoyed my post, you’ll love my YouTube channel, here, where I talk in great detail about why forefoot running is the best way to run! 

Run Forefoot Because You are Faster than You Think!

More on Why You Should Not Heel Strike:

Shin Splints – Find out why heel strike runners are more prone to shin splints than forefoot runners.

Runners Knee – Learn how heel strike running blasts the knee with higher impact forces than forefoot running

Lower Back Pain – Heel strike-related impact implicated in chronic lower back pain

Soft Tissue Vibration and Injury – Discover how the heel strike-transient overloads soft tissue compartments, sending them into a fatigue state.


Legramadni, MA., Schepens, B., and Cavagna, GA. Running humans attain optimal elastic bounce in their teens. Sci Rep, 2013; 3: 1310.

Alexander, RM. Tendon elasticity and muscle function. Comp Biomech Physiol A Mol Integr Physiol, 2002; 133(4):1001-11.

Cavagna, GA., Pollock, ML., and  Landa, J. A biomechanical comparison of elite and good distance runners. Annauls of the New York Academy of Science, 1977; 301: 328-345.

Gill, HS and O’Connor, JJ. Heel strike and the pathomechanics of osteoarthritis: a pilot gait study. J Biomech, 2003; 36(11):1625-31.

Cavagna, GA., Saibene, FP., and Margari, R. Mechanical work in running. J Appl Physiol, 1964; 19(2): 249-256.

Pohl, MB., Hamill, J., and Davis, IS. Biomechanical and anatomic factors associated with a history of plantar fascitis in female runners. Clin J Sport Med, 2009; 19(5):372-6.

Milner et al. Biomechanical factors associated with tibial stress fracture in female runners. Med Sci Sports Exerc, 2006; 38(2):323-8.

Slawinski JS, Billat VL. Difference in mechanical and energy cost between highly, well, and nontrained runners. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2004;36:1440–6.

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!