Forefoot running may be better than heel striking in many ways. For one, humans might have the fundamental anatomical features better suited for a forefoot strike rather than a heel strike.
Secondly, if humans evolved to run, our lower extremities must have been evolutionary designed through selective pressures to foster running comfortably over long distances (remember, our ancestors ran barefoot).
- since forefoot running is associated with less impact production, it may be possible that our ancestors were forefoot strikers, making running barefoot more comfortable
Forefoot Striking, the Body’s Preferred Way to Run?
Forefoot striking seems to be more relevant biomechanically and energetically as it may enable greater potential elastic energy storage in the Achilles tendon than other styles of running. And, again, it appears to be less forceful:
- contact-time is minimized
- collision forces are eliminated
- over-striding is minimized
- knees are kept soft, slightly bent which allows for greater compliance (i.e. spring)
- the leg is in a favorable position at foot strike to allow the Achilles tendon to potentially recover more elastic strain energy
Forefoot Striking Might be Better
In a forefoot strike, the impact force is significantly reduced because the knee is bent at foot strike and the foot collides with the ground in a position that is more ‘parallel’ than ‘head on’ with the ground as in heel striking. What am I talking about?
The illustration below, shows a forefoot strike. Or does it? It looks like the runner may contact the ground heel first.
However, if you look closely (below), you will see that the foot is still airborne and is aligned ‘parallel’ with the ground. In this position, the foot is ready to make initial contact with the ground on the forefoot followed by the rest of the foot quickly flattening to the ground. Why is this part important?
- a forefoot strike landing in this manner, reduces a jarring force, and a peak impact force that is produced in a heel strike landing. In other words, in a forefoot strike, the foot swoops down to the ground in a way that may be much smoother than a heel strike.
Left, shows the foot hovering ‘parallel’ to the ground before landing on the front part of the foot.
Yet, some runners may think that a forefoot strike involves landing higher up on the toes as shown below:
Above, shows a toe-strike landing pattern in which the foot is positioned more ‘perpendicular’ (extreme plantar flexion) relative to the ground and not parallel to the ground as in a proper forefoot strike landing.
- landing higher up on the toes may create a jarring force, or a spike in impact just like in a heel strike.
- for instructional clarity, a forefoot strike could be thought of as a forefoot-midfoot strike landing pattern to avoid the tendency of landing higher up on the toes/balls of the feet.
Left, shows how a forefoot strike should come together. The knee is slightly bent at foot strike, and the foot is in a minor plantar flexed position, meaning Meb is not landing high up on his toes, but rather on the forefoot-midfoot area.
You get an appreciation of the relaxation in Meb’s legs. Ultimately, this is why I believe that forefoot running may be better.
The mechanics of a forefoot strike may give runners a stronger, safer foundation with each step.
More on the Health Benefits of Forefoot Running:
Run Forefoot, Because You Are 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.