What is a Forefoot Strike?

We all want to run without getting injured. To achieve this, you need to run with less impact on the lower leg. This is what I love so much about forefoot running is that it eliminates the heel strike impact transient –an impact force that is inherently linked to most running injuries. But, what is a forefoot strike in running?

What is a Forefoot Strike
A forefoot strike is when the balls of the foot contacts the ground before the heel.

A forefoot strike landing when running is when foot position is horizontal, or parallel with the ground upon touchdown.

At touchdown, the balls of the foot lands first, but overall, a forefoot strike is a significantly flatter foot-placement than a heel strike landing –a heel strike landing, used by most joggers, is a more vertical placement of the foot upon and at touchdown and results in rapid braking that hurts the knee.

What is a Forefoot Strike?

In a forefoot strike, the lateral edge or outer-side of the forefoot makes initial ground-contact during running, then shortly after, the heel lowers to the ground.

More specifically, the region of the forefoot to make initial ground-contact is under the 5th-4th metatarsal heads followed by the flattening of the rest of the foot with the ground (shown below).

Describing the Proper Forefoot Strike
To help you avoid heel strike, don’t lift your forefoot, instead either point your forefoot downward (as shown below) or keep it parallel with the ground (as shown above)
How to Land with a Forefoot Strike
Slightly pointing your forefoot downwards helps you land on your forefoot and avoid heel strike when running.
What is Forefoot Strike Running
Above, shows the initial contact region of the forefoot during forefoot running whereby initial ground contact of the foot occurs closer to the outer-side of the forefoot, preferably underneath the 5th toe

Why is landing on the outer-side of the forefoot important in forefoot running? 

  • Lieberman et al., found that by landing on the forefoot with initial contact under the 5th-4th metatarsal heads, followed by dropping the heel to the ground, reduced both jarring and deceleration forces. Essentially, the landing pattern of the foot in forefoot running prevented the body from coming to a dead stop.

Does that mean I have to try and run on the sides of my feet when learning forefoot running?

Never force the landing. Let it happen naturally. Although, heel strikers transitioning to forefoot running should acknowledge that initial ground-contact is on the lateral edge of the forefoot.

  • Landing on the sides of the feet is reflexive, and over time, conscious efforts wont be needed for proper forefoot landings.

Most Barefoot Runners Land on the Outsides of their Feet

Most barefoot runners land on the outside of the forefoot when making initial contact with the ground, before lowering of the heel.

The fact that barefoot runners share a similar landing pattern with respect to foot strike in forefoot running, indicates this landing pattern is reflexive, or hardwired due to selective pressures.

Kenyan Forefoot Strike
Habitual barefoot runners from Kenya were found to make initial contact on the ground with the outside of their forefoot. This landing pattern resulted in the elimination of the impact transient associated with heel striking. SOURCE: Lieberman et al (2010).

The picture with diagram above is from a compelling study by Lieberman et al. who analyzed the foot strike landing pattern in habitual barefoot runners from Kenya.

Kenyan runners grow up running barefoot and strike the ground with their forefoot, particularly on the sides of the forefoot, too.

Below, is a video of the forefoot strike landing pattern of Tirunesh Dibaba (she’s the runner in the middle with the black & white Nike’s). Dibaba also grew up running barefoot and lands on the sides of her forefoot.

In the video, just before Dibaba’s forefoot contacts the ground, notice she DOES NOT lift her toes as heel strikers often do upon heel strike.

Dibaba has her foot-ankle complex relaxed (the feet should feel relaxed and floppy), her feet effortlessly fall to the ground. Essentially, Dibaba is not forcing any movements in her foot, nor does she drive or rush her foot to the ground. It just falls .

Another tip is Dibaba does not land high up on her toes, rather, her foot placement at foot strike is much flatter as mentioned earlier.

  • some forefoot running learners mistake forefoot running as toe running (or ‘tippy-toe’ running as I call it) and end up landing higher on their toes without letting the rest of the foot flatten to the ground

Tippy-toe running is probably just as injurious as heel strike running as your calves will soon feel blow-torched.

If your calves are sore, you could be landing too high up on the balls of your foot, or toes. Don’t do that anymore!  Aim for a more flatter foot strike, but avoid heel contact first!

In my opinion, Dibaba’s forefoot running style is the textbook example of forefoot, and barefoot running mechanics. She is among the best in the world and I prefer to learn from the best because how Dibaba runs has a lot to do with why she is so great.

To help you execute a proper forefoot strike landing, you can run barefoot or run in barefoot-simulated footwear. Here are the benefits of running barefoot as well as some great additional barefoot running learning resources. And last but not least, here are my reviews and recommendations on barefoot-feeling running shoes for forefoot running.

More Tips for a Better Forefoot Strike:

  •  To allow for better knee flexion and therefore greater impact absorption, make sure your knee is bent at touchdown. This will ensure a softer forefoot landing
  • For better overall balance, spend more time looking down a few feet in front of your feet when running. You will find that gazing at the ground while running will bring everything together! (Note: do not run with your head down when gazing downwards, rather tilt your head slightly forward allowing the chin to ‘drop’)
  • Save energy by relaxing. Relax your legs and let the feet dangle. In the flight phase of forefoot running, both feet are off the ground (you’re airborne), the feet and ankles need to be relaxed and ‘dangle’ in the air

Hope these tips help with your forefoot, or barefoot running progress!

Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome – Many runners suffer this dreaded injury, but many runners don’t  know why. This article covers the main cause of knee injury in runners.

Achilles Heel – Found out why heel strike running is such a daunting task for the Achilles tendon, resulting in injury to the tendon.

Eccentric Exercises – We often hear about eccentric exercises, but you can achieve them just by running barefoot; find out how.

Why Try Barefoot Running – Find out how barefoot running gives you more stability control and power to handle forefoot running injury-free.

Heel Striker’s Problems – Landing on the heels when running is really a crash landing. Find out what kind of injuries are the result of heel striking.

Why I Like Forefoot Running – Read my reasons why forefoot running is the way humans were meant to run.

Heel Strike vs Forefoot Strike – Find out how forefoot running offers more impact reduction than heel strike running.

 


References:

Lieberman et al. Foot strike patterns and collision forces in habitually barefoot versus shod runners. Nature (2010); 463: 531-535.

Bretta Riches

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

1 Comment

  1. G’Day Bretta, i really enjoy your articles & videos of your barefoot “fore foot” running style……very imformative! i can see the improvement in your gait for the better, running barefoot , do you prefer barefoot in most of your routines , walking, etc.?

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