Does Foot Strike Matter When Running? YES!

There are important differences between heel strike and forefoot strike running, which is why foot strike matters in running because there’s nothing about heel strike running that provides protection against harmful impacts. Forefoot running on the other hand, engages the body’s natural mechanics that actually defend against high impacts. This is why barefoot runners, who land with a forefoot strike, are able to run safer than runners who heel strike in shoes.   

Does Foot Strike Matter When Running?
Research on impact mechanics have shown over and over again that there’s too many negative aspects to heel strike running than positive.

A long line of bio-mechanical research supports that heel strike running is considered a major source of injury because it produces a different variety of impact forces that are most directly responsible for shin splints, runners knee, lower back pain and long bone injuries. This is not the case in forefoot running as it actually softens your step while keeping your stride within a short, safer range.

Does Foot Strike Matter When Running?In fact, its becoming more well-established that the touchdown phase in heel strike running is most dangerous because it produces a distinct burst in collisional impact that the body cannot absorb. In other words, there’s too much intensive stop and go, or high braking, at heel strike which causes an excessive amount of impact.

Worse still, the high brake force produces a shockwave that crashes into the shins, knees, hips and lower back, resulting in impact-induced degeneration. This is why heel strike runners have to rely on thick cushioned-heeled running shoes, which sounds like an obvious solution, but it turns out to complicate things even more! (Here’s why!).

In contrast, the classic features of forefoot running is it cancels out the burst in collisional impact at landing (shown below), while smoothing out other impact forces, like vertical loading and shear forces which are notoriously linked to bone fractures, and are high in heel strike running.

Does Foot Strike Matter When Running? YES!
The brake force in forefoot running is small enough to avoid the compressive wave that causes shin fracture, runners knee and lower back pain.
Forefoot running (shown left) is the better answer to preventing injury by improving the position of your foot at landing while reducing knee extensibility. The net effect is a shorter over-stride angle that results in far less impact than heel strike running (shown right) which facilitates a larger over-stride angle that accounts for all the forces linked to major injuries.

In forefoot running, there’s less burst of high impact because for one, landing on the front part of your foot causes the knee to flex (slightly bend) which puts in motion a shorter stride angle that breaks the flow of high impact.

For another, landing with a forefoot strike results in a smoother motion of the foot that produces less braking and jarring forces, making it easier to handle longer, harder, faster miles. At the same time, forefoot striking results in a larger contact area of the foot that automatically provides more surface area to spread impact on, shown below.

Does Foot Strike Matter When Running?

This is why every study involving heel strike runners who switched to forefoot running had the largest improvement in injury proneness because forefoot running fully resolves nearly every injury caused by heel strike running.

The Take Home Message

Because of its consistent scientific-backing on reducing injurious net forces, forefoot striking is the most functional way to use your feet when you run than heel strike running. And, the payoffs of forefoot running is more immediate than you think, especially if you run barefoot which is the ultimate mechanical re-calibrator. Here’s the published studies showing just that!


[1]. Boyer E., Rooney BD and Derrick TR. Rearfoot and midfoot or forefoot impacts in habitually shod runners. Med Sci Sports Exerc, 2014; 46(7): 1384-1391.

[2]. Carter DR, Hayes WC. Fatigue life of compact bone—I. effects of stress amplitude, temperature and density. J Biomech. 1976;9(1):27–34.

[3]. Reilly DT, Burstein AH. The elastic and ultimate properties of compact bone tissue. J Biomech. 1975;8(6):393–405.

[4]. Schaffler MB, Radin EL, Burr DB. Mechanical and morphological effects of strain rate on
fatigue of compact bone. Bone. 1989;10(3):207–14.

[5]. Turner CH, Wang T, Burr DB. Shear strength and fatigue properties of human cortical bone determined from pure shear tests. Calcif Tissue Int. 2001;69(6):373–8.

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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