Head Position in Forefoot Running

Head position in forefoot running should be tilted slightly down and the chin should be slightly tucked in, to allow eye gaze to scan the ground thereby enhancing forward momentum.

A slight tilt downwards in head position coupled with scanning the ground with the eyes when running is especially useful when running barefoot on uneven surfaces to avoid painful landings.

Head position in forefoot running
Eyes down, chin tucked in for smooth, effortless forefoot running.

Many Ethiopian runners and most elite distance runners who are forefoot strikers maintain a slight forward tilt in head position as shown above.

Avoid projecting your chin outwards, or tucking it in too much to avoid restricting the airways.

To get your head positioning right in forefoot running, first and foremost, do what feels natural.

  • relax your neck
  • let your eye gaze fall to the ground and let your dropped gaze orient the position of the head, which would lead to a very slight forward tilt

Eye Gaze Affects Head Position When Running

Running with head up and eye gaze straight ahead may cause braking
Running with the head held too upright may impose on the lean needed for a smoother, safer gait.

Eye gaze in running, especially in forefoot running, affects the position of the head, and in turn, may effect the position of the torso and center of mass (COM). For instance, looking up, straight ahead when running may influence the head to tilt slightly back which may pull the torso back as well, resulting in a more upright body position (right).

According to the Pose Method of Running, which is very similar to the forefoot running style of most Ethiopian elite runners, the body must maintain a subtle lean forward from the ankles to drive momentum and therefore reduce braking.

  • running with the head slightly tilted down coupled with an eye gaze position fixed down at the ground, a few feet in front of the body, may facilitate leaning with greater ease
  • running with the head and chin held up may reduce the lean as well as the capacity for forward momentum

Outdated Beliefs on Biomechanics

Conventional wisdom with respect to biomechanics instruct runners to hold the head up high and look straight ahead far off in the distance.

These ‘tips’ on biomechanics maybe inaccurate since most habitual barefoot runners, including Ethiopian runners, look down when running, resulting in a head position that is not held high (shown below).

Head positioning in forefoot running
Ethiopian runners often stare down at the ground when running, resulting in a more forward tilted head position. These runners also run more smoothly compared with many recreational runners who avid by conventional biomechanics and suffer more injury.

Tilting the head slightly forward, like many Ethiopian runners, guides the body to fall forward, or lean as in Pose Running, and may eliminate braking and improve breathing.

My Experience

Ever since I started graded barefoot running to help transition from heel striking to forefoot striking, my body prefers to look down at the ground more frequently which causes me to slightly tuck my chin in when I run. This feels more comfortable and ‘natural’ and prevents fluctuations in my form compared to when I was a heel striker, always looking straight ahead with my held high.

When I was heel striking, I held my torso and head very upright and erect which now, seems like more work and I can feel the ‘braking’ if I run with my head up, eye gaze up, when forefoot running.  In fact, my body feels unstable if I do not focus on the ground with my eyes when running, sort of like running with a blindfold and the brakes on.


Tips On Forefoot Running Form:

Run Right with a Forefoot Strike !

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

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