What is a Forefoot Running Shoe?

A forefoot running shoe is a zero-drop, minimalist running shoe that should be highly flexible to allow the foot to continue its motion after foot strike.

I cannot stress enough that the lower the heel, the better you will be at forefoot striking.

  • minimalist running shoes have a super thin, flexible midsole and outsole, and a light basic upper with little, or no heel
  • The toe-box and heel should be level as shown below:

What is a Forefoot Running Shoe?

What is a Forefoot Running Shoe?

A forefoot running shoe is flat, with no cushioned materials under the heel. Essentially, the design of a forefoot running shoe should compliment the anatomy of the human foot.

Running in minimalist footwear may encourage a barefoot running gait (a forefoot strike running style).  Another added bonus is the flexibility of a minimalist shoe may provide optimal conditions when walking and running to improve foot and ankle strength.

Running in minimalist footwear has metabolic advantages which lead to performance gains:

  • light weight racing flats shown to improve running economy by 3.8% compared to running in heavier trainers
  • running in heavily cushioned trainers found to be energetically costly whereby running economy was reduced by 1% –  2%

Interestingly, an August 2012 study in the Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise reported that running barefoot offered no metabolic advantages over running in minimalist footwear.

  • however, conflicting reports showed that barefoot running improved running economy by improving foot-strike mechanics as barefoot subjects transitioned from a heel strike to a forefoot strike

From this, one could hypothesized that it was the adaptation of a forefoot strike in response to barefoot running that improved running economy.  Perhaps the barefoot subjects in the 2012 study were heel strikers?

Whatever the case may be, based on conflicting reports on if barefoot running leads to an automatic adoption of a forefoot strike, it may not be necessary to run barefoot in attempt to correct foot-strike mechanics, or to improve running economy as minimalist footwear may do the trick.

Running Shoes for Forefoot Running

The shoe above is not a forefoot running shoe, it is a heel strike running shoe because of the elevated heel.  An elevated heel may shift the body’s center of mass backwards while running which may promote over-striding and heel striking.

Another reason to stay clear of these shoes derives from the concerning data reported in a September 2009 study published in the Journal of PM&R.  The researchers found that runners wearing a neutral shoe with a thick heel generated higher knee moments and joint instability when running compared to barefoot runners:

  • higher knee moments was related to excessive overloading and mechanical stress which may be a major risk factor for runners knee

Lastly, high-heeled running shoes are stiff because of the excessive cushioning and stability elements crammed into it:

  • a stiff running shoe cannot reproduce the natural degrees of freedom of the foot which may progressively lead to soft tissue atrophy as well as knee joint damage

The Take Home Message

The prevailing belief of what constitutes as a forefoot running shoe is one that cannot have a built up heel.  A forefoot running shoe should closely mimic feeling barefoot which may serve as an important tool in maintaining a natural, less forceful running style, which is the forefoot running style.

More From Run Forefoot:

How barefoot running sandals improve running technique

Running form tips from Mo Farah

Healthy snack recipes for long distance runners

How runners can reduce ACL knee symptoms


Franz,  JR.,  Wierzbinski CM, and Kram R. Metabolic cost of running barefoot versus shod: is lighter better? Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2012; 44(8):1519-25.

Kerrigan et al. The effect of running shoes on lower extremity joint torques. PM&R 2009;1(12): 1058–1063.

TenBroek et al. Effects of unknown footwear midsole thickness on running kinematics within the initial six minutes of running. Footwear Science 2013; 5(1):27-33.

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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