Forefoot runners land on the lateral forefoot (outer-side of forefoot) because the small bones in this are more bendable, thereby providing greater comfort as opposed to landing directly under the big toe –a common mistake newbie forefoot runners make!
Why Forefoot Runners Land on the Lateral Forefoot
The metatarsal geometry of the 5th and 4th metatarsal heads (lateral forefoot) are more bendable than the 1st and 2nd metatarsal head –which are the most resistant to bending. This is why the 2nd metatarsal is the most common site for fracture in runners who heel strike as heel striking exposes the 2nd metatarsal head to the greatest amount of bending strain.
Believe it or not, a heel strike running style also results in greater forefoot loading compared to a forefoot strike running style. How so?
- Soon after heel strike, the foot rolls heel-to-toe where the center of pressure travels in this direction also and reaches its greatest magnitude with more sheer force at the 2nd metatarsal head just before toe-off.
In contrast, in a forefoot strike landing, at touchdown, the 5th and 4th metatarsal heads are the greatest load bearing area. When the rest of the foot flattens down on the ground to initiate stance during forefoot running, the loading then quickly dissipates over the medial aspect of the forefoot and travels posteriorly, ending at the heel where peak pressure is lowest. This is also why forefoot strikers do not need external protection under the heel.
Lateral Edge of Forefoot Stronger than Area Under Big Toe
The structural integrity of the 5th and 4th metatarsals compliment the physiological loading in forefoot running simply because 5th and 4th metatarsal stress fractures are virtually unheard of in habitually barefoot running populations (i.e. habitual forefoot strikers).
The reason a forefoot strike landing reduces loading on the 2nd metatarsal head is due to a less aggressive toe-off.
Forefoot running also dramatically reduces bending strain on the 2nd metatarsal because the medial aspect of the forefoot is not used for propulsion or acceleration.
The Take Home Message
The feet interact very passively with the ground in forefoot running and are essentially platforms that support the body during stance.
The high degree of bendability of the small bones in the lateral edge of forefoot evolved via natural selection to allow humans to run long distances while barefoot more easily without the risk of foot injury.
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Gross TS and Bunch RP. A mechanical model of metatarsal stress fracture during distance running. Am J Sports Med. 1989;17(5):669-74.
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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