The function of the arch in the feet is very imperative to forefoot running, because if it’s functioning correctly, it helps converse energy. The arch of the foot has elastic storage capabilities that contribute to running economy. Moreover, the elastic, or spring function of the arch differs in heel strike and forefoot strike running.
- Heel strike runners may have poor arch function because arch support structures in a standard running shoe lessens vertical arch compression during the stance phase of running.
Therefore, running shoes that accommodate a heel strike running style inhibits the degree of stretching and recoiling of the arch. And, if you don’t use it, you lose it which may explain why many heel strike runners complain about ‘fallen’, ‘collapsed’, or ‘low’ arches.
Forefoot Running Improves Arch in the Feet
The mechanics of forefoot running in minimalist footwear or while barefoot prevents arch fragility and restores spring-functionality of the arch by the three-point bending shortly after touchdown which exerts load on the arch, shown below.
Fig 1. (A) Shows the forces acting on the arch of the foot at touchdown in a forefoot strike landing. (B) The arch loads in three-point bending in forefoot running at touchdown causing the arch to stretch more than in heel strike running. SOURCE: Lieberman et a., 2010.
Moreover, forefoot running may increase arch height in runners with flattened arches because the toes were found to hyper-extend before touchdown which caused the arch to heighten in forefoot runners, shown below:
Conversely, the motions of the foot in heel strike running are opposite in forefoot running and has worse consequences on the arch.
In heel strike running, the arch stiffens until the foot flattens after heel strike thereby restricting arch compression and recovers less elastic energy. After heel strike, the downward force exerted by the body during foot rollover increases the rate of the ground reaction force on the arch.
Why is the elastic behaviour of the arch important in running?
A study by Ker et al., found that the arch of the foot is capable of recovering roughly 17% of the mechanical energy produced at each step when running.
Unlike in heel strike running, a forefoot strike, especially while barefoot or in minimalist footwear, may vastly improve running economy by reinforcing vertical compression and stretching-recoiling of the arch which in turn, optimizes the flow of elastic energy.
More From Run Forefoot:
- Keep Your Hips Square When Running May Improve Efficiency
- Look Straight Ahead While Running, Or Down at the Ground?
- Alberto Salazar: Run Like a Sprinter to be a Great Distance Runner
- Forefoot Running is Landing on the Balls, Not the Toes
- Running Shoes for Forefoot Running
Ker et al. (1987). The spring of the arch of the human foot. Nature,325:147-9.
Pear, DP., Daoud, AI and Lieberman, DE. (2012). Effects of footwear and strike type on running economy. Med Sci Sports Exerc, 44(7):1335-43.
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.
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