What Determines Foot Strike in Runners?

Growing evidence suggests a runner’s foot strike depends on running shoes in that cushioned running shoes cause runners to heel strike, whereas barefoot running causes a runner to forefoot strike.

What Determines Foot Strike in Runners

What Determines Foot Strike in Runners?

A new study by Jimenez-Munoz et al. confirmed the above. As expected, the researchers found that runners landed high on their heels in cushioned running shoes, but when shod runners ran barefoot, foot strike instantly changed to a midfoot or a forefoot strike landing. The findings are proportional to past reports which also found that running barefoot changed foot strike, for the better.

Subsequently, a sustained forefoot strike landing when barefoot is often achieved on harder surfaces, meaning that barefoot runners are less likely to heel strike on pavement [2]. In doing so, a barefoot runner avoids heel pain –this raises the general question of should we even be heel striking in the first place?

Running speed also determines foot strike whereby running at faster speeds increases the likelihood of a forefoot strike landing. However, the researchers found that shod runners maintained heel strike at faster running speeds, suggesting that cushioned running shoes prevent runners from utilizing a forefoot strike, which is needed to reduce impact when running fast.

Overall, these finding add to past reports which have concluded that the biggest difference between barefoot runners and shod runners is how they strike the ground with their feet [3-6]. Nevertheless, the take home message is that the quest for optimizing biomechanics can leave a runner dissatisfied if the wrong shoe is worn. When we run barefoot, we achieve biomechanics that will reduce injury and improve gait efficiency.

Click here to read more articles on how barefoot running improves running form.

Don’t like the thought of running barefoot? You can achieve similar results in barefoot-like running shoes. Click here to check out the recommended barefoot shoes that will help you avoid heel strike while running.

More From Run Forefoot:

Why Heel Striking is Bad

How Heel Striking and Forefoot Striking Differ

Common Running Injuries and the Main Cause of Them

How to Increase Cadence

How the Achilles Tendon Works in Forefoot Running

Prevent Overpronation


[1]. Jimenez-Munoz et al. Influence of shod/unshod condition and running speed on foot-strike patterns, inversion/eversion, and vertical foot rotation in endurance runners. J Sports Sci, 2015;33(19):2035-2042.

[2]. Hamill, J., Russell, E. M., Gruber, A. H., & Miller, R. (2011). Impact characteristics in shod and barefoot running. Footwear Science, 3, 33 – 40.

[3]. Altman, A. R., & Davis, I. S. (2012). A kinematic method for footstrike pattern detection in barefoot and shod runners. Gait & Posture, 35, 298 – 300.

[4]. Lieberman, D. E., Venkadesan, M., Werbel, W. A., Daoud, A. I., D ’ Andrea, S., Davis, I. S & Pitsiladis, Y. (2010). Foot strike patterns and collision forces in habitually barefoot versus
shod runners. Nature, 463, 531 – 535.

[5]. Gruber, A. H., Silvernail, J. F., Brueggemann, P., Rohr, E., & Hamill, J. (2013). Footfall patterns during barefoot running on harder and softer surfaces. Footwear Science, 5, 39 – 44.

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

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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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