Energy Saving Measures in Forefoot Running

One of the best energy saving measures when forefoot running is to make sure your heel drops down after your forefoot has made contact with the ground.

Energy Saving Measures in Forefoot Running
Placement of the foot in forefoot running is flat and not high up on the toes. Although, a forefoot strike is a flatter foot placement, the balls of the foot contact the ground first followed by the dropping of the heel.

Energy Saving Measures in Forefoot Running

Dropping the heel in forefoot running boosts performance by allowing the Achilles tendon to stretch and fill up with more elastic energy. Not allowing the heel to lower to the ground strains the calves and the Achilles tendon. To avoid these problems, this is how your forefoot strike should look:

The video above shows a proper forefoot strike landing and the heel lowering to the ground. It is important to wear running shoes with no padding under the heel to ensure the heel is fully capable of lowering down and contacting the ground during forefoot running.

Heeled Running Shoes Prevents Heel Lowering

Heeled running shoes prevents the heel from completely lowering to the ground, thereby limiting the amount of elastic energy storage during forefoot running.

Thick heeled running shoes prevents heel from lower in forefoot running
The cushioned heel of a running shoe prevents the heel from completely lowering to the ground thereby preventing adequate stretching of the Achilles tendon.

Under-heel cushioning restricts controlled dorsiflexion related to heel lowering in forefoot running. This limits Achilles tendon stretching, thereby reducing it’s capacity to recover elastic energy.

  • Pearl et al., elucidated that shod runners may be less efficient than barefoot runners because the thick heel of a running shoe limits ankle dorsiflexion and reduces Achilles tendon strain.

Another problem of not dropping the heel is that it increases mechanical stress on the calves and soleous, resulting in pain and even Achilles injury. This suggests why many new forefoot runners struggle with Achilles injury –because their footwear prohibits complete heel lowering.

What About East African Runners?

Most East African marathoners wear running shoes with a cushioned heel and are impressively efficient. However, these runners adaptively developed a longer Achilles tendon due to running barefoot in their younger years. A longer Achilles tendon is a hallmark barefoot running trait whereby a longer Achilles tendon stores more elastic energy than a short one.

The Take Home Message

Your forefoot strike is incomplete if your do not drop your heel after touchdown. Natural selection favored heel dropping in humans because it increases mechanical efficiency during running. Yet, many forefoot running learners wear heeled running shoes because they believe that the extra protection is a security blanket from impact. But, the truth is, you will have better luck avoiding injury and mastering the forefoot running technique in a shoe without the thick heel.

Learning forefoot running in the proper shoe is key in preventing injury. Thankfully, you can increase your Achilles tendon length by barefoot running training and wearing a zero drop minimalist running shoe. And finally, never use static stretching to elongate the Achilles tendon.

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Pearl, DP., Daoud, AI and Lieberman, DE.(2010). Effects of footwear and strike type on running economy. Med Sci Sports Exerc, 44(7):1335-43.


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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