Why Heel Strikers Switching to Forefoot Running Should Try Running Barefoot At Least Once

Running barefoot was the best thing I could have done during my transition to forefoot running from the dreaded heel strike running style.

The leading cause of biomechanical malfunction is largely due to cushioned running shoes and they may prevent adequate learning of the forefoot running technique, especially for a shod-heel striker.

Cushioned running shoes can mess with the brain’s circuitry and hijack its spatiotemporal system, but a new study shows that barefoot running is more instrumental in improving technique because it causes immediate biomechanical changes. This is why habitually shod heel strike runners who transition to forefoot running should run barefoot now and then.

Why Heel Strikers Switching to Forefoot Running Should Try Running Barefoot

Running Barefoot Brings Out Immediate Changes

Bonacci et al., 2013 found that barefoot running triggered immediate biomechanical changes at the knee and ankle in highly trained shod runners. Barefoot running also prompts an immediate decrease in ankle dorisflexion at touchdown — a landing behavior similar to efficient forefoot running (Strauts et al. 2015). Moreover, immediate changes typically occur at the proximal joints (i.e. knee and hip) during barefoot running (Strauts et al. 2015).

 

Simple alterations in knee and hip flexion during barefoot running can lead to injury prevention, so the effects of footwear might not be enough to ensure optimal forefoot running mechanics. Therefore, graded barefoot running seems to be a key component in technique refinement.

Divert From Heel Strike Mechanics with Barefoot Running

Barefoot running is highly useful, but only if the runner lands with a forefoot strike. Interestingly, Strauts et al., 2015 found that heel strike was maintained when habitually shod runners ran barefoot for the first time, however barefoot running led to significant changes in trunk, knee and ankle angles at touchdown and these changes were closely related to a forefoot running technique.

Other positive changes evoked by barefoot running included reduced EMG peak activity of the tibialis anterior –which corresponds to less muscular cost in the shins– and  reduced anterior pelvic tilt. These changes significantly persisted when the runners re-donned their shoes.

Their findings are not surprising because having more proprioceptive input ultimately depresses heel strike-related mechanics. Immediate and adequate biomechanical adjustments occur when proprioceptive activity is ramp up, therefore good forefoot running mechanics is accompanied by barefoot running.

The Take Home Message

The most important finding from the study was that barefoot running mechanics persisted after barefoot training had stopped and the runners re-donned their footwear, suggesting that barefoot running may have caused long, or short-lasting cellular memories in the brain. Therefore, it is important to routinely run barefoot to prevent the removal of the cellular memories left by barefoot running, which eventually will help you sustain good forefoot running mechanics when shod by taking away the involuntary desire to heel strike.

More From Run Forefoot:

Knee Pain

Arch Height Matters in Heel Strike Running, But Not in Forefoot Running

Forefoot Running Not the Same as “Landing on the Toes”

Top Minimalist Shoes for  Forefoot Running

Forefoot Running DONTs


References:

Bonacci, J., Saunders, P. U., Hicks, A., Rantalainen, T., Vicenzino, B. T., & Spratford, W. (2013). Running in a minimalist and lightweight shoe is not the same as running barefoot: A biomechanical study. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 47(6), 387 – 392.

Strauts S., Vanicek, N and Halaki, M. Acute changes in kinematic and muscle activity patterns in habitually shod heel strikers while running barefoot. J Sports Sci, 2015. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/02640414.2015.1034756

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

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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