Does Foot Strike Matter When Running?

One of the most fiercely debated questions in running is:Does foot strike matter?

The answer is absolutely yes as decades of research consistently point to heel strike running for being the significant producer of a number of injury-predisposing impacts and physical stressors, like overpronation, and as long as you heel strike when you run, these injurious risk factors will always remain a component of this style of running. This is not the case in forefoot running.

Does Foot Strike Matter When Running?
If you look at who gets injured in running, heel strike runners are increasingly more likely to suffer more severe injuries more frequently than forefoot runners. This is because firmly establish research consistently shows a strong relationship between heel strike running and chronically high impact, regardless of how thickly cushioned your running shoes are.

One reason impact is always higher-than-normal in heel strike running is due to the fact that the farther back you land on your heel, the more the knee-joint unbends and becomes too stiff. The net effect of this is higher rates of loading and impacts because increases in knee-joint stiffness at landing was found to cause a functional loss in impact absorption of the leg. 

  • This is a fact of paramount importance that doesn’t get enough attention when it needs to because its confirmation that foot strike matters significantly since its a proven source of impact production!
Does Foot Strike Matter? YES!
When running, one of the main duties of the knee is to absorb impact, but when you land heel-first, the knee-joint unbends too much, causing it to stiffly lockout to the extent where impact absorption is not nearly as effective as it is in forefoot running.

The reasons heel strike running produces higher rates of loading and overall impact is partly because at heel strike, the knee hyper-extends, causing the knee-joint to become too stiff to contribute to impact absorption effectively.

Again, this is why its important to remember that foot strike pattern absolutely matters in running because how you land on your foot directly affects knee mechanics which in turn directly influences the knee’s capacity to absorb impact.

But, can a heel strike runner make the conscious effort to bend their knee at landing to reduce impact? The answer is yes, but doing so does nothing to reduce impact, and here’s why!

Why Forefoot Running Makes Your Knees Work Better As Shock Absorbers

Most relevant, comparative studies discovered that landing forefoot-first when running enables the knee to work more efficient at delivering better impact protection because the joint automatically bends and flexes at landing. In this way, the knee joint is more compliant and flexible which was found to stop the flow of excessive impact thereby reducing muscle and bone stress.  

Does Foot Strike Matter When Running?
One of the essential features of the forefoot strike is greater knee bend and flexion whereby the farther you land away from your heel, towards your forefoot, the more the knee slightly bends and becomes compliant. That’s just how the gears work! The functional significance of this is it perfectly prevents the stress-wave impact responsible for most long bone injuries by putting your foot placement in a better position closer to your center mass (your hips) at landing. A shorter distance between your initial foot strike position and your center mass is what is needed to reduce the brake force of which the stress wave derives from.

All in all, science tells us that running foot strike matters because it has an outsized influence on knee mechanics. Landing with a forefoot strike is one of the best, most important contributions in reducing damaging impacts because it engages the knee in a more functional manner, allowing the joint to bend which is what a joint is supposed to do, whereas this same response is absent in heel strike running.

What’s more, knee mechanics isn’t the only aspect of your stride that forefoot running optimizes, it also improves your stance-width which was found to reduce IT band strain. Forefoot running even increases cadence, resulting in a contact of the foot with the ground that’s so brief that many impact forces don’t have enough time to occur.

Its for reasons like this that many runners are switching from heel strike to forefoot strike running since an overwhelming majority that make the switch have full resolve of knee pain as well as chronic lower leg pain and even lower back pain!


Arendse RE, Nokes TD, Azevedo LB, Romanov N, Schwellnus MP, Fletcher G. Reduced eccentric loading of the knee with the pose running method. Med Sci Sports
Exerc. 2004;36(2):272-277.

Daoud AI, Geissler GJ, Wang F, Saretsky J, Daoud YA, Lieberman DE. Foot strike and injury rates in endurance runners: A retrospective study. Med Sci Sports Exerc.

Derrick TR. The effects of knee contact angle on impact forces and accelerations. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2004;36(5):832-837.

Sol C, Mitchell K. Impact forces at the knee joint – A comparative study on running styles. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2002;33(5):s128.

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!