How to Run Smoother

The sure way to run smoother is with forefoot running instead of heel strike running. Why not heel strike when running? Running with a heel strike allows for a more rigid gait due to repetitive braking during each step.

Run Smoother

How to Run Smoother

A study by Jungers (2010) compared the biomechanical parameters of forefoot running and heel striking and found that the movement pattern of the foot in a forefoot strike may allow for a more smooth, glide-like stride compared to a heel strike.

How exactly does a forefoot strike allow for a smoother ride than a heel strike?

Below, shows the stages of the motions of the foot in a forefoot strike that allows for gradual deceleration at ground-contact. Comparatively, heel striking produces a rapid deceleration force equivalent to the mass of the body colliding with the leg.

How to Run Smoother
Figure 1. The Forefoot Strike of Tirunesh Dibaba. (A)-(C), shows the foot in a relaxed position, falling to the ground. (D) shows initial contact of the foot in a forefoot strike on the outer-side of the forefoot, usually under the 5th to 4th metatarsal head, which is the common landing pattern of most barefoot runners. (E) shows the rest of the foot beginning to flatten to the ground. (F) shows the entire foot, including the heel, in contact with the ground during the stance phase of forefoot running. This movement pattern of the foot reduces deceleration, braking, and rapid impact at each step.

In a forefoot strike, the specific motions of the foot are less rapid, or jarred compared to a heel strike and may reduce or prevent the sudden forces with high rates of magnitude of loading found in heel striking.  This is why forefoot runners glide; whereas heel strikers often look choppy.

Heel Strikers Move More Rigidly

In addition to landing squarely on the heel, heel strikers tend to take larger, lunge-like steps and over-stride (shown below), which also reduces stride smoothness.

Smooth Running

  • Chi and Shmitt (2005) found that foot strike position was ahead of the body in heel strike running which resulted in a rapid collision force causing the body to stop abruptly along with the point of impact on the foot.
  • The deceleration at heel strike allows for a more choppy, jarred stride.

What does this mean in terms of injuries?

Dr. Daniel Lieberman and his colleagues at Harvard University suggested that heel strike runners must repeatedly cope with the peak impact forces related to rapid deceleration.

Most joggers are heel strikers where the injury rate is consistently high. Elite distance runners and barefoot runners are mostly forefoot strikers and do not encounter the severity of injuries of heel strike runners.

It is also becoming widely accepted that humans evolved as forefoot strikers because we ran barefoot and landing on the forefoot is more comfortable and less forceful than landing on the heel.

No Positive Gains to Heel Strike Running

The collision force due to rapid deceleration in heel strike running has a jolting effect on the body that kicks off a chain of downstream effects that include vibration of soft tissue compartments and greater loading on the joints.

Based on the high injury rates in joggers, the human body has not yet evolved coping mechanisms at the physiological level to absorb and attenuate the shock of heel strike running.


 

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.

References:

Chi, K and Schmitt, D. Mechanical energy and effective foot mass during impact loading of walking and running. J Biomech (2005); (7):1387-95.

Friesenbichler, B., Stirling, LM., Federolf. P. and Nigg, BM. Tissue vibration in prolonged running. J Biomech (2011) 4;44(1):116-20.

Jungers, WL. (2010). Biomechanics: Barefoot strikes back. Nature, 463:433-34.

Lieberman et al. Foot strike patterns and collision forces in habitually barefoot versus shod runners. Nature (2009); 463, 531-535

Bretta Riches

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!

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