Correct Running Foot Strike: Forefoot Strike vs Heel Strike

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
Forefoot strike running may give you a better mechanical basis than heel strike running in ensuring low impact and increased access to elastic energy supply and sustainability via optimizing arch and Achilles tendon function.

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 – What a proper forefoot strike landing looks like in forefoot running.

Forefoot Strike vs Heel Strike – Outlining the fundamental differences between forefoot strike and heel strike running and how these differences have big implications to injury and performance.

Is Forefoot Running Safer – Why runners may be less vulnerable to injury with forefoot striking vs heel striking.

Lower Impact, More Energy – Because all-around impact levels are significantly lower in forefoot running, less energy may be needed for muscle tuning (i.e. body’s natural shock attenuation mechanism) as compared with heel strike running.

Less Stress on Joints, More Energy Conserved -The low impact nature of forefoot running may reduce joint loading, soft tissue movement as well as vibrational responses which in turn may help the lower leg operate at the level of better economic sufficiency as compared with heel strike running.

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.

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 more stable and functional knee mechanics which may reduce energy cost.

Correct Running Foot Strike: Why Forefoot Strike, Not Heel Strike
Forefoot strike running is really the whole package: it has shown the most promise in lessening harmful impacts and it could naturally help pull together mechanical improvements, such as increased cadence and reduced ground-contact time, all of which are the foundations for safer, lighter, softer running.

Xero Shoes minimalist casual shoe - barefoot inspired footwear

How To Maximize Your Forefoot Strike Effectiveness and How Forefoot Running Naturally Promotes Other Functional, More Safe Mechanical Outputs

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.

Wear Minimalist Running Shoes or Run Barefoot – Running barefoot or in barefoot-like running shoes can improve your forefoot running stride by engaging your knees more functionally and safely. 

Correct Running Foot Strike: Why Forefoot Strike is Better
Running with a forefoot strike can serve as a great equalizer in naturally prompting other mechanical adjustments that can lead to less intrusive impacts and better running efficiency.

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:

Correct Running Foot Strike: Why Forefoot Strike!
There is a special opportunity forefoot running affords in helping prevent injury. By landing on the forefoot during running, you are landing on the widest part of the foot which has important implications in countering high-impacts from shooting up the leg. This is why forefoot striking during running, especially long distances, sustains well in putting you on safer ground by helping phase out harmful impact loads that cause the knee harm.

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.

Correct Running Foot Strike: Why Forefoot Strike!
When it comes to adopting a forefoot strike running style that is safe and efficient, without the full involvement of sensory input stimulating the bottom of the bare foot, there may never be the progress that is necessary in helping you get the results you need. We have pressure and mechanoreceptors built into the bottom of the bare foot which have strong connections with key reflexes and motor nerve networks involved in withdrawal-retraction of the foot and leg. Running barefoot re-engages these networks at a very high level, enabling safe and effective forefoot strike running mechanics to sustain well, whereas in traditional running shoes, these reflexive outlets are underfunded with sensory information which may worsen your efforts to learn the proper forefoot strike running technique and emerge injury-free.

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:

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:

How to Begin Learning Forefoot Strike Running

To make forefoot running learning easier, here are key forefoot running tips to keep in mind:

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.

If you’d like, you can support Run Forefoot and help keep it going strong by making a donation in any amount of your choosing: https://www.paypal.me/RunForefoot

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

Xero Shoes: http://bit.ly/2UIR9YK

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Lems Shoes: http://bit.ly/2YZwe1r

Zappos: https://goo.gl/J1CeAd


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.

References:

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.

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

2 Comments

  1. Question: I picked up the Tesla shoes, insoles keep moving around I’m thinking about just removing them is that ok, or will that destroy the shoes. I live a a rocky dirt road about 1.5 miles long. The tesla is not good here, is there a better shoe which would run better on this type of road. I run mostly trails and after I got on trails these are fine. but getting there is no fun. I was thinking going to NEW Balance MT10 after im more comfortable in this type of running, but not sure with its 4mm drop. My feet start feeling pain around 8-10 miles in but most of old knee pain is gone. I have a few ultra’s this year and running in Altra superior for now. Thoughts on NB MT10 for trails and ruff rocky roads. For now Im taking my Kinvara’s on rocky roads then put in pack after my road is complete.

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