Drills to Prevent Achy Legs From Running

Achy legs are common in heel strike runners, not so much in forefoot runners. However, heel strike runners who transition to forefoot running may experience achy legs due to improper forefoot running mechanics.

Moreover, achy legs from heel strike running is referred to as chronic exertional compartment syndrome, which is rare in habitually barefoot runners –runners who use a forefoot strike over a heel strike.

  • Recent work has found that heel strikers who suffered from compartment syndrome of the leg showed a complete reduction in leg pain and increased training volume after properly adopting a forefoot strike.

Drills to Prevent Achy Legs From Running

Integrating drills for forefoot running helps speed learning and retention of eliminating heel strike when running. Below, are specific forefoot running drills from the Pose Method of Running that were successful at reducing intramuscular pressure in heel strike runners after the forefoot running technique was adopted.

Drill to prevent achy legs when forefoot running
Drills for runners with achy legs. SOURCE: Diebal et al. (2013)

A. Weight-Shifting – focus on shifting pressure from the heels of the foot on to the forefoot. Although this drill seems miniscule, it was successful in allowing runners to dramatically change body weight during stance.

B. Falling Forward – focus on letting your body fall forward while maintaining the stance position. Start close to the wall and move farther away from the wall as comfort level increases.

C. Foot Tapping – focus on pulling the foot from the ground by perceiving the leg to draw the foot up. Be sure to relax the foot-ankle complex when pulling. This helps prevent the learner from pushing off with the foot to initiate flight during running.

D. High Hoping – Start by standing with the feet shoulder width apart and both knees slightly soft and bent and spring yourself up off the ground by not pushing off with your feet. Let the spring action of the leg pick the foot up under your buttocks. Attempt to relax your quads when doing this drill. Only light jumps at first and work your way up to allowing the heels to contact the buttocks.

These form drills are fundamental in forefoot running and are aimed at improving neuromuscular interactions to allow the body to interact safely and more efficiently with the ground.

One Step at A Time

The mind processes information in a serial fashion (one thing at a time). During running, your mind can only focus on one thing at a time and cannot process making changes in biomechanics all at the same time.

If you overload your brain with too many instructions simultaneously, you will burn out mentally and then physically.

When forefoot running, pick one ‘forefoot running thought’ such as falling forward, landing quietly, or pulling not pushing with the foot. Always remember to limit yourself to one forefoot running thought and practise one mechanical change at a time.

More From Run Forefoot:


Cohn, P. Peak Performance Golf – how good golfers become great ones. 2000. Lincolnwood, Chicago, IL.

Diebal et al. Effect of forefoot running on chronic exertional compartment syndrome: a case series. Int J Sports Phys Ther, 2011; 6(4):312-21.

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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