Using Your Eye Gaze to Run More Efficiently

Positioning your eye gaze down at the ground when running prepares the leg for a better, safer landing as compared with looking straight ahead.

Visual feedback is important to running, especially when it comes to leg kinematics before touchdown. Looking where you are stepping while you run programs your body to execute the right movement.

Using Your Eye Gaze to Run More Efficiently

A study by Muller et al. found that when runners ran on uneven surfaces while visually scanning the ground, the visual feedback led to a decrease in muscle activation in the anterior tibialis.

  • A decrease in muscle activation in the anterior tibialis means that the shins were more relaxed.
  • Flight time also increased, meaning less ground contact time.

The researchers concluded that the changes in muscle activation in the lower leg was driven purely by the feed-forward system which relies heavily on visual feedback. That is, seeing where you are stepping provides the brain with a somewhat subliminal cue to prepare the leg for a safer, more stable contact.

Hey look, Haile Gebreselassie runs with the eyes closed! No he doesn’t, but it looks like he does because he actually stares straight down at the ground when he runs more than he looks up, which may account for his efficient leg kinematics.

Many runners stare straight ahead, away from the ground when running whereby the lack of visual feedback from the ground prevents unconsciously activating important reflexes for a more stable landing, especially over uneven terrain.

When runners avoid looking at the ground, they are less reactive to proper footfalls and are less apt to avoid ankle injuries and other forms of muscular strain of the leg. These individuals may also become more preoccupied, or distracted with their surroundings and display less of a tendency to run with optimal balance control and softer landing strategies.

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Muller R., Haufle DF and Blickhan, R. Preparing the leg for ground contact in running: the contributions of the feedforward and visual feedback. J Exp Biol, 2015; 218(2).

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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