A growing body of work suggests that the correct running foot strike is most likely a forefoot strike as it may help support better running economy (Warrington et al.2014), as compared to heel strike running –a running style that seems to be a supply chain of harmful impacts and low efficiency. This is one of the many reasons I believe forefoot running is supremely useful when it comes to efficiency effectiveness and injury prevention.
After reading Born to Run by Christopher McDougall, I was completely sold on the concept of forefoot running (how could you not be?) and I instantly ditched my heel strike running style –which had me stuck in an injury ditch for far too long. Credit to forefoot running, running injury-free does exist as in forefoot running, the foot is suspended on the ground in a way that has positive implications on multiple fronts at once. Below, I highlight the study proven results on what makes forefoot running so effective as compared with heel strike running.
Correct Running Foot Strike: Why Forefoot Strike, Not Heel Strike
Heel Strike vs Forefoot Strike
First, it is important to distinguish the differences between forefoot running and heel strike running. Below identifies key points about the benefits of forefoot running and how it is different from heel strike running:
What is Forefoot Running – Defining what is and what is not forefoot running.
Forefoot Strike vs Heel Strike – Helping you understand how a forefoot strike is different from a heel strike and why heel striking increases the risk of injury.
Safer Running – Running without injury is simple, because of forefoot running that is. Here are my thoughts as to why forefoot running is not bad.
Less Soft Tissue Vibrations – Forefoot runners appear to vibrate less than heel strike runners, helping their muscles save more energy on muscle tuning.
The Wobble Mass Effect – Here’s how forefoot running may have less net energy loss as compared with heel strike runners.
Smoother Strides – Forefoot running maximized stride smoothness and minimizes jerk at touchdown, which is key to interacting smoothly and gracefully with the ground.
Pronation – Forefoot running is associated with safer pronation that is of shorter duration than heel strike running
Why Forefoot Striking is Safer
Here are the mechanical attributes of forefoot running that make it more economical than heel strike running:
Tilting Forward – The best way to improve your acceleration performance when forefoot running.
Step Width – Because stride length is shortened, forefoot running may allow for a wider step width which is linked to less stress on the shins and the IT band.
Better Knee Kinematics – Running with a forefoot strike in minimalist shoes gives you maximal help with better knee function.
Arch and Achilles Elastic Energy Contributions – The arch and Achilles tendon have a better chance of storing more energy in forefoot running.
Higher Stride Angle – Comparing the influences of stride angle vs strength length on running economy.
Better Knee Movement Control – Forefoot runners were found to have less knee excursions, thereby saving more energy.
Forefoot Running and Injury Prevention
Not only does forefoot running improve performance, but it lowers the risk of the following injuries and the related risk factors:
- Patellofemoral Joint Stress
- Hip Pain
- Anterior Shin Splints
- Runners Knee
- Tibial Shock
- Medial Calf Pain
- Tarsal Tunnel Syndrome
Why Running Barefoot is the Fastest Way to Learn Forefoot Running
Runners seem to be more responsive in adopting the proper forefoot strike landing if they run barefoot as the direct contact of the bare foot with the ground seems to be the most novel stimulus that helps the runner avoid initial strike on the heel.
Many newbie forefoot runners display an incorrect forefoot strike as well as other biomechanical impairments, which increase the risk of injury. Here is how going barefoot improves these components:
- Better Perception of Foot Strike
- Improves Load Balance of Center of Mass
- Strengthens Mind-Body Connection
- Increases Tactile Sensations
- Improves Intrinsic Foot Strength, Especially When Barefoot Outdoors
- Discourages Heel Strike
- Improves Toe Splay
- Better Arch Mobility for Impact Deflection
- Less Knee Excursion
- Controlled Ankle Dorsiflexion
- Reduces Stride Length
- Improves Ankle Kinematics
- Improves Muscle and Tactile Receptor Activation
- Improves Dynamic Stability and Balance Control
- Less Loading on the Hips
- Prevents Shin Splints
Why Reconsider Habitual Use of Cushioned Running Shoes
In the early stages of learning forefoot running, many runners believe that thick cushioned shoes will reduce impact, necessititating an easier transition. This is a myth, and thick cushioned running shoes induce movement impairments and injuries listed below:
- High Plantar Pressures
- Achilles Injury
- Knee Osteoarthritis
- Poor Proprioceptive Signaling
- Increased Overpronation
How to Begin Learning Forefoot Strike Running
To make forefoot running learning easier, here are key forefoot running tips to keep in mind:
- Let the Trunk Rotate
- Always Tell Yourself to ‘Land Lightly’
- Use Vibram Five Finger for Better Rates of Success
- Start off Running Barefoot in Small Amouts on Asphalt, Not Grass
- To Reduce Pronation, Wear Barefoot Running Shoes or Run Barefoot
- Avoid Learning Forefoot Running on a Treadmill
- Look Down at the Ground More than Looking Straight Ahead
- Try to Avoid Slanted Roads
- Stop Stretching!
For more in-depth insights on the health and performance benefits of forefoot strike running, check out my YouTube channel: here, where I also draw more attention to the advantages of barefoot running, especially its large role in making your forefoot running effectiveness more lucrative on many fronts
More From Run Forefoot:
Forefoot Running Shoe Reviews – Here are the running shoes I feel are best suited for forefoot running.
Barefoot Running – Train better, learn forefoot running faster with barefoot running and discover how barefoot running is literally physical therapy for the legs.
Injuries Caused by Heel Strike Running – Here I outline the injuries linked to heel strike running and how they are caused by heel striking.
Proprioception Central to Forefoot Running – Understand why developing the proper forefoot running technique resides in the level of proprioceptive input.
Warne JP, Warrington GD. Four-week habituation to simulated barefoot running improves running economy when compared with shod running. Scand J Med Sci Sports. 2014;24:563–8.
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.