One of the best changes to your running form is the forefoot strike because it actually improves many aspects of your stride in ways that provides more protection against damaging impacts than heel strike running.
One way forefoot running produces its own impact protection is by naturally increasing cadence, or step-rate, which is the number of times your feet contact the ground per/min.
The reason cadence is naturally higher in forefoot running is due to the reductions in stride length which is also naturally engaged when landing forefoot-first.
- The farther you land away from your heel, towards the front of your foot, causes the foot to have less time to swing out all the way through and around the stance limb thereby reducing stride length.
But why does a higher run cadence work so well in phasing out injurious impacts?
Research supporting the relationship of increased run cadence and reduced impact on the leg comes from a 2011 and a 2016 study in the journal of Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise,confirmed that increased cadence and reduced stride length go hand in hand, and this dynamic-duo was most responsible for reducing peak tibial (shin) contact forces.
The studies also found that a shorter stride length automatically helped pull the foot in more to land closer to the center of mass (the upper body) of which this landing arrangement effectively reduced peak ground reaction forces on the lower leg.
This work indicates that foot strike pattern matters in running because how you land on your foot changes the direction of the swing leg in that forefoot running corresponds to reduced stride length and higher cadence which directly facilitates the suppression of harmful impacts on the leg.
Heel strike running (shown below) has the opposite effect in that the farther back you land on your heel, the greater the over-reach of the leg to do so, the greater the stride length, and therefore, the lower the cadence. What makes this so ineffective is that the center of mass ends up farther away from initial foot strike position, causing the mass of the body to abruptly grind to a halt for a prolong period of time, resulting in higher levels of damaging impacts and mechanical loads which are well on record for harming the foot and leg.
Heiderscheit BC, Chumanov ES, Michalski MP, Wille CM, Ryan MB. Effects of step rate manipulation on joint mechanics during
running. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2011;43(2):296–302.
Luedke et al. Influence of Step Rate on Shin Injury and Anterior Knee Pain in High School Runners. Med Sci Sports Exer, 2016; DOI: 10.1249/MSS.0000000000000890
If you’ve enjoyed my post on heel strike vs forefoot running, you’ll love my YouTube channel here, where I talk at lengths about the evidence-based reasons forefoot running is the best way to run, and how running barefoot can make you run better in shoes!
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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.