Heel Strike Impact Remains Unchanged In Soft or Hard Running Shoes

A heel strike runner can have all the cushioning in the world under their heels, but this wont stop them from getting injured. The impact transient along with the sheer braking force created at heel strike occurs at such a high magnitude that there is no running shoe with the capacity to completely eliminate the joint-crippling impact forces associated with the heel strike running style.  This has been proven over and over again, just look at the high injury rates sustained by joggers, most of which heel strike.

Heel Strike Impact Remains Unchanged In Soft or Hard Running Shoes

Heel Strike Impact Remains Unchanged In Soft or Hard Running Shoes

Clarke et al., found that impact remained unchanged whether the runner used soft running shoes or hard running shoes. So, why do we need running shoes to run if they do not reduce impact?

The impact was unchanged because the runners ran with a heel strike, not a forefoot strike.

Humans evolved as barefoot runners and the environmental circumstances at the time exerted strong selection pressures for forefoot running.

For our ancestors, running was a low impact activity, but today, running is considered a high impact activity because running shoes effectively discourage forefoot running and fail to diminish the rapidly applied vertical force related to most injuries.

Humans have a natural inclination to engage safely with the ground when barefoot running. However, the relation of the traditional running shoe and diminished plantar sensory feedback is a dangerous situation according to Robbins and Hanna (1987).

The researchers argued that running shoe-related injuries are like “pseudo-neuropathic injuries”, injuries caused by mechanisms similar to a neuropathic injury, except without prior neurological damage, meaning that the injury was caused by a man-made device (running shoes) because it masks sensation and prevents innate protective behavior evolved by humans.

In support of this, the researchers showed that the traditional running shoe did not produce the sensation necessary to induce protective adaptations inherent with barefoot weight-bearing activity.

Barefoot running is an innate behavior because it fully shapes the biomechanical adaptations that deflect harmful mechanical stimuli and body shock. Because vertical loading is unchanged in shod heel strike runners, it is obvious that running shoes interfere with this innate behavior.

Matter-of-fact, Robbins and Hanna speculated that the traditional running shoe interferes with the downward deflection of the medial arch on loading and orthotics could cause similar difficulties. The researchers also criticized the design tactics of engineers who create footwear/orthotics based on the premise that the foot is a delicate, inflexible lever.

Various myths persist about foot behavior due to poor understanding of its biology” ~Robbins and Hanna, 1987.

But this leads to the common belief: humans weren’t meant to run barefoot on man-made surfaces.

This belief is quickly shaping up to be another running related- myth as it was impressively disputed by Dr. Lieberman. Likewise, Robbins and Hanna suggested that the ultimate solution probably resides in running shoe modifications.

Vibramfivefinger for Forefoot Running
The Vibram Five Fingers are great for closely mimicking barefoot conditions.

In regards to the right forefoot running shoe, as long as you are able to feel most surface characteristics of the ground, your feet will be better able to adapt to man-made surfaces, allowing you to asses your forefoot running skills to create a low impact running environment on your own.

More From Run Forefoot:

Run forefoot, because you are faster than you think.


Clarke et al. The effects of shoe cushioning upon selected force and temporal parameters in running (Abstract). Med Sci Sports Exerc, 1981;14:2.

Robbins, SE and Hanna, AM. Running related injury prevention through barefoot adaptations. Med Sci Sport Exerc, 1987; 19(2):148-156.

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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