Forefoot Running Lessens Leg Muscle Work

In forefoot running, the leg doesn’t reach out far in front of the body in the way that it does in heel strike running. Because of this, the leg extensors are used less in forefoot running, since we aren’t stretching the leg far out in front of the body as heel strikers do. This is another way that forefoot running allows the lower leg muscles to save energy by reducing leg extensor activity as compared with heel strike running.

Forefoot Running Lessens the Work of the Lower Leg

Forefoot Running Lessens Leg Muscle Work


Why Leg Extensor Activity is Greater in Heel Strike Running

Heel strike running requires maximum leg extension in order to heel strike whereby Maximum leg extension can be inferred by the increase in maximal strength in the lower leg extensors, but consequently, greater demand is exerted on the motor units. Other reports lend support to the idea that leg extension at touchdown leads to knee injury also.

Knee Flexion Reduces Leg Extensor Activity in Forefoot Running

In forefoot running, it’s fairly easy to understand how muscle costs are lower as compared with heel strike running. Since the leg is not fully extended at touchdown in forefoot running, a smaller percentage of the maximal strength in the lower extensors would be activated, which reduces actual demand of motor units [1].

In forefoot running, when the foot approaches the ground, the knee flexes (bends) instead of straightening. In this case, the result is lower muscular output of the lower leg extensors.

Moreover, running barefoot or in barefoot running shoes may enhance knee flexion by increasing sensory input. In some cases, a failure to execute adequate knee flexion at touchdown is due to sensory deficits to mechanical input coming from the feet.

Nevertheless, the full implications of more knee flexion at touchdown is one of the best mechanical corrections that will save you energy when forefoot running.
More From Run Forefoot:

Plantar Flexion vs Dorisflexion  – Learn how one is better than other for both performance and injury prevention.

Proprioception – In order to run better, you’re going to have to maximize your proprioception. Find out how and why.

Forefoot Footwear Review – Find out why I think the Vivobarefoot One M is an excellent forefoot running shoes

Midfoot Running – Find out why midfoot striking is not as good as forefoot running.


[1]. Storen O., Helgerud J and Hoff, J. Running stride peak forces inversely determine running economy in elite runners. Nat Strength Cond Asssoc, 2011; 1(25):117-123.

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

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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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