Forefoot Running Lacks Research, Not Good for Learners

Forefoot running is a big black hole in the scientific literature as most studies on running are on the heel strike running style. This is counter-intuitive because it’s now widely accepted that the human body is anatomically better suited for forefoot running.

Unfortunately, proposed mechanisms for injury prevention is based on heel strike running. Therefore, treatment strategies for runners knee, ITBS, and shin splints is applicable to heel strike runners only. But what about forefoot strikers?

Heel strike running remains the focal point in biomechanical research since it’s the predominate foot strike in habitually shod populations. However, forefoot running has already been established as the key to high performance and pain-free running. This is why more studies need to be ambitiously undertaken on forefoot running.

Forefoot Running Lacks Research
Whats the proper way to run forefoot? We don’t really know yet because it hasn’t been studied.

After Lieberman et al., found that forefoot running is less forceful than heel strike running, the possibility that runners can run injury-free was real. However, the amount of shod runners who suffered injuries after abruptly switching to barefoot running, without proper instruction, underscored that possibility.

This is due to the fact that a gait model(s) of forefoot running that is in parallel with what is already known about forefoot running kinematics has yet to be established. This prevents scientists from being able to specify the detailed biomechanical parameters of the proper forefoot running technique to help learners understand it better.

Forget About Researching Heel Strike Running

There is an ocean of information pertaining to the heel strike running style: We know exactly how heel strikers run, we know what variables affect their performance efficiency, we know how they get injured, we know the type of athletic footwear they need to avoid injury. Yet, we still don’t know how they can run better as heel strikers to eliminate injury -hence why heel strikers rely heavily on footwear for injury prevention.

Research on Heel Strike Running
With all the research on heel striking, we still don’t understand how to heel strike injury-free.

Now, research has found that forefoot running prevents runners knee, shin splints, compartmental syndrome, tibial stress fractures, and back pain because it is associated with significantly less impact than heel striking and is why forefoot runners are able to run safely without shoes regardless or speed, distance, and surface hardness.

Research now needs to divert away from heel striking and focus solely on forefoot running, particularly in habitual barefoot populations such as Ethiopia where running-injuries are somewhat rare. This information would be invaluable and could help biomechanical researchers flesh out the details on establishing a unified framework on the proper forefoot running technique.

For now, many forefoot running learners turn to the Pose Method of Running as well as Chi Running for guidance, but studies on habitual barefoot running populations would play a definitive role in addressing exactly how we should be forefoot running.

Research on Ethiopian Runners Forefoot Running Technique
Ethiopian runners are the best in the world and run properly with less injury. Why shouldn’t we be researching how they run so we can learn too?

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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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