Because of the gliding nature of forefoot running, forefoot runners do not need shoe traction to grip the ground when running over icy surfaces. The gliding component of forefoot running comes from ankle plantarflexion at touchdown while the knee is flexed (shown below).
In addition, the high cadence and lower ground contact time in forefoot running allows the foot to spend less time on the ground, thereby limiting exposure to slippery surfaces.
How to Run in the Winter Safely Without Slipping
Heel strikers have a greater chance of slipping on ice than forefoot strikers because the center of mass is behind foot strike position, the knee is straight at foot strike, and aggressive toe-off makes it easier to slip as well.
At heel strike, foot strike position is ahead of the body causing braking; meanwhile, the center of mass is approaching the planted leg because the system is trying to move forward despite the braking effect at heel strike. In a car, what happens when you slam on your brakes over ice? The car slides. The same outcome will happen when heel striking over ice.
How Forefoot Runners Interact Safely on Ice
Naturally, forefoot running involves more passive mechanical responses to the ground, giving forefoot runners a safer advantage of running on icier landscapes.
As mentioned briefly, forefoot running is described as a ‘compact style of running’. This means that foot strike position is near the center of mass which is achieved by a slight forward lean or a forward shift in the center of mass coupled with striking the ground on the forefoot.
Therefore, posture at the time of initial ground contact is very important for safe winter running. The video below perfectly illustrates the safeness of forefoot running when running on ice:
If Dr. Romanov was heel striking, he would have slipped because the center of mass would have collided with the leg positioned in front of the body at touchdown.
And lastly, because of the forward lean or forward position of the center of mass, toe-off is less aggressive in forefoot running, allowing for a better ‘rebound’ effect between the body and the ground, including ice.
The Take Home Message
The overall gait kinematics of forefoot running, that is, shorter stride length, higher cadence, shorter contact times with the ground as well as a less vertical positioned trunk, correspondingly increases the propensity to run safely under ice conditions.
Conversely, the destabilizing forces related to heel strike running strongly supports the idea that heel striking is unsafe during the winter months as landing squarely on the heel with a leg that is maximally extended in front of the center of mass, makes it impossible to grasp a stable landing.
More From Run Forefoot:
- Heel Strike Running vs Forefoot Strike Running
- East African Runners are Forefoot Runners Not Heel Strikers
- Forefoot Strike Running Prevents Lower Leg Injury
- The Biggest Problem with Heel Striking
Run Forefoot Because You’re Faster Than You Think!
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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