Smooth running feels great and it allows us to avoid injury because it is an indicator of less impact. The best way to achieve smooth running is to adopt the forefoot running technique which increases the degree of stride smoothness compared to heel strike running. This is why most elite runners who land on their forefoot have a much smoother running gait than most recreational runners.
Why Forefoot Running Allows for Smooth Running
Researchers have now used objective methods to assess the degree of stride smoothness and found that minimizing jerk at touchdown maximizes stride smoothness during running. These situational factors coincide with a forefoot strike landing, not a heel strike landing where jerking is higher at touchdown.
How Forefoot Running Makes for a Smoother Landing
- In forefoot running (shown below), plantar flexion, knee flexion, and a forward body tilt at touchdown promotes a trajectory of movement during foot-ground contact that would best minimize jerk.
The majority of elite runners are forefoot runners or non-heel strike runners whereby a non-heel strike landing is critical for a smooth foot trajectory at touchdown, especially at fast speeds.
- A smoother foot trajectory at touchdown is also indicative of reduced braking. Therefore, forefoot running greatly enhances stride smoothness by cutting down on braking at touchdown.
Humans Evolved to Have Smooth Strides Via Barefoot Adaptations
From an evolutionary perspective, running with greater smooth foot trajectory at touchdown facilitates our adaptive responses to minimize mechanical stress and joint loading under barefoot conditions (hominids ran barefoot and most likely utilized a forefoot strike).
- Bergman et al. suggested that a smoother stride is an innate strategy to reduce joint loads therefore reducing the risk of injury during running.
Therefore, it would make sense that hominids possessed a forefoot running style with optimal stride smoothness which would not have predisposed them to injury.
Shoes Effects Stride Smoothness
Beyond selective pressures, environmental variables, such as cushioned heeled footwear and unnatural soft surfaces, affect stride smoothness by compromising proprioception and discourages a forefoot strike landing.
Nevertheless, a zero-drop running shoe or running barefoot is critical to control smooth foot trajectory to achieve safe ground clearance, allowing initial ground-contact on the forefoot, not the heel.
More From Run Forefoot:
Don’t Heel Strike! – Research shows that heel striking is a major pitfall for runners.
Barefoot Running – It’s not a fade. It’s actually one of the best ways to improve the sensory networks in your feet and joints.
Shoe Reviews – A forefoot runner’s guide to minimalist shoes.
When Your Knees are Out of Whack – Learn how to avoid runners knee.
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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.