Why Some Forefoot Runners Get Strain Injury in the Calves

Strain injury in the calves are typically common in newly transitioned forefoot runners (i.e. those who’ve transitioned from heel striking to forefoot striking).

Forefoot running and calf pain is probably the most common soreness inexperienced forefoot runners get plagued with. However, most complaints of calf pain are from heel strike runners who recently switched to forefoot running.

Why Some Forefoot Runners Get Strain Injury in the Calves

Why Some Forefoot Runners Get Strain Injury in the Calves

Compellingly, a study by Sterne at el., (2014) purported that elastic mechanisms of the lower leg that are indirectly controlled by the calf musculature are under-developed in habitual heel strike runners.

Researchers suspect that a heel strike running style may ‘de-condition’ the calves as a study by Williams et al., (2000) found that heel strike runners experienced significant calf fatigued when the forefoot running style was utilized.

Bottom line, experts speculate that there’s something about the heel strike running style that limits the ability of heel strikers to use the calf musculature effectively when forefoot running -this is why heel striker runners who experiment with forefoot running feel like their calves have been blow-torched after the fact.

Although, heel strike running may weaken the calves, the wrong forefoot running technique will cause calf pain also. For instance, the calves are over-loaded if the leg is used to push or propel the body forward to initiate flight.

Habitual forefoot runners fall and remove the foot passively via firing of the hamstrings, according to Dr. Romanov of Pose Running.

Forefoot running requires well conditioned calves because they control and stabilize the ankle joint at touchdown. And the calves in forefoot running control ankle dorsiflexion.

The calves role in forefoot running is to provide balance control, helping lock the leg into a stable position where elastic energy storage is optimized in the Achilles tendon, which in turn, reduces work done by the surrounding leg muscles.

So, if your calves are sore after running forefoot for the first few times, especially if you have been heel striking for many years prior, your calves just need time to adjust and adapt to a new running condition.

Its the same as lifting weights when you have never weight lifted before. Your arms will feel very tight, stiff, sore and hard to move the next day. The same effect is taking place within the calf musculature when forefoot running is first experienced.

The pain is actually a form of strengthening and not indicative of an injury. This is where patience and belief in your ability as a forefoot running is important. Be patient, your calves with get better.

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Williams DS., McClay, IS and  Manal, KT. Lower extremity mechanics in runners with a converted forefoot strike pattern. J Appl Biomech, 2000;16:210-8.

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

1 Comment

  1. Thanks for this great article and all the tips. I have been running on vibrams for many years now but have been challenged with long recovery times after each run. I often have to wait over a week for my calves to fully recover. You mentioned passive use of calf muscles. I wonder if passive means not sensing any muscle use and just bouncing, or maintaining some flex but just not pushing off. Do you know?

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