Is Forefoot Running Safe for Your Toes?

First things first, forefoot running is not toe running. Some people often confuse toe running with forefoot running! Landing forefoot-first when running does not involve landing high up on the toes without the heel dropping down to the ground (this is toe running and its dangerous!)

Landing with a forefoot strike is actually a much flatter foot placement, almost like a mid-foot strike, but the balls of the foot, not the toes, is the first part of the foot to strike the ground, then the heel lowers down to the ground. 

Is Forefoot Running Safe for Your Toes?

Forefoot running has significantly more benefits than any other foot strike pattern. These benefits include reduced impact, reduced over-pronation and optimal use of the elastic structures of the lower leg. Another benefit of forefoot running is that it improves the functional strength of the toes!

Weak toes obviously makes them more vulnerable to injury, but balance and footstep stability is compromised, too, which can make bad mechanics even worse!

There are many ways a runner can develop stronger toes, such as walking barefoot on uneven surfaces and being barefoot more often in general, but one sure way is by running with a forefoot strike.

A 2014 study in the Journal of Sport and Health Science found that a forefoot strike landing when running naturally increased muscle activation (which is a major prerequisite for developing stronger muscles) in the long and short toes when the upper body (center of mass) is positioned over the forefoot during the early stages of stance (when the heel is still lifted off the ground).

The purpose of the increased muscle activation in the toes helps reduce damaging dorsiflexion moments (shown below) around the MTP joint (the big-toe joint) (Goldman et al. 2013).

Is Forefoot Running Safe for Your Toes?

  • The touchdown and stance phases in forefoot running naturally increases MTP joint dorsiflexion moments (shown above) which demands greater muscle stabilization from the toes as compared (Perl et al.2012).
  • In simple terms,  the touchdown and stance phases of forefoot running requires ongoing active muscular activation and functional engagement of the toes which is also necessary for promoting more growth in soft tissue and muscle strength throughout the forefoot and toes.

Even more encouraging, forefoot running barefoot or in minimalist shoes, offers more opportunity for the toes to strengthen because the toes have more freedom to engage with more toe splay, extension, bending and flexion. These functional movements of the toes also helps expand the forefoot loading area which helps reshape the foot into a healthier, wider shape. Is Forefoot Running Safe for Your Toes?

The functional benefit of a wider forefoot is it allows for a wider contact area of the foot with ground. This not only provides a more secure base for balance, it also prevents loading from reaching beyond tolerance to one small area of the forefoot, rather loading is more evenly dispersed over a larger surface area. This is how impact overexposure on the foot is easily avoided because impact pressure spread best when the toes and forefoot can expand while landing with a forefoot strike during running. 

You can check out many examples of barefoot-inspired minimalist running shoes (here!) that have a wide-toe box, enabling more functional engagements of the toes.

Below are also more examples of the evidence that supports the facts that not only can minimalist running shoes boost foot strength as well as the sensory functions in the feet, but they can significantly reduce impact loading across the legs and back:

Got a Bunion? Barefoot Running Shoes Impacts Bunion Growth, For the Better.

Minimalist Running Shoes Great for Treating Sore Knees.

Minimalist Running Shoes Improves Sensory Processing in the Feet, Especially in Older Runners.

Minimalist Shoes Linked to Less Lower Leg and Back Pain.


References:

Goldman et al. The potential of toe flexor muscles to enhance performance. J Sports Sci, 2013;31:424-33.

Miller et al. The effect of minimal shoes on arch structure and intrinsic foot muscle strength. J Sport Health Sci, 2014, 3, 74-85.

Perl et al. Effects of footwear and strike type on running economy. Med Sci Sports Exerc, 2012;44:1335-43.


If you’d like, you can support Run Forefoot and help keep it going by making a donation in any amount of your choosing:

Or, you can also support Run Forefoot by shopping at the following top minimalist shoes brands, and be sure to bookmark the links:

Be Lenka: https://www.dpbolvw.net/click-7600968-14330828

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Earth Runners: https://earthrunners.com/?rfsn=6763579.f7f9c9

Vivobarefoot: https://shrsl.com/3kvih

Zappos: https://goo.gl/J1CeAd

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

P.S. Don't forget to check out the Run Forefoot Facebook Page, it's a terrific place to ask questions about forefoot running, barefoot running and injury. I'm always happy to help!