Heel Strike Runners Run Safer on a Treadmill

If you are not a forefoot runner, you are most likely a heel strike runner. If you have no intention on switching to forefoot running, the only other way to potentially heel strike safely is by running on a treadmill instead of outside.

Heel Strike Runners Run Safer on Treadmill
Heel strike runners run with more impact on the road than on a treadmill.

The problem with heel strike running is the lack of evidence showing that it prevents injury. Moreover, increased heel cushioning will not overcome the force of heel strike running –this is why most heel strikers persistently struggle with injury.

On the bright side, one strategy to minimize the force of heel striking is to run more on a treadmill and less outside on the road (overground).

A study by Perez-Garcia et al., in Gait & Posture investigated treadmill vs overground running on the heel strike impact in heel strike runners.

Heel Strike Runners Run Safer on a Treadmill
Heel Strike Runners Run Safer on a Treadmill

Surprisingly, the researchers found that heel strikers running on the treadmill ran with less impact and were more economical compared to heel striking overground.

The researchers also discovered:

  • maximum pressures over the entire sole of the foot was reduced on the treadmill
  • the propulsive phase in heel strike running was reduced on the treadmill
  • running speeds were well maintained on the treadmill with less propulsive force than heel striking overground
  • the braking phase in heel strike running was reduced on the treadmill and peak pressures and relative loads under the heel were reduced as well

The researchers suggested that even though heel strike running is a mechanically and energetically unfavorable style of running, heel striking on a treadmill appears is a tad safer on the body than heel striking overground.

Nevertheless,  heel strike runners may see performance gains from treadmill running since it was found to be less energetically demanding than heel striking overground.

More on Why Heel Striking is BAD:

Runners Knee

Altered Body Posture

Metatarsal Stress Fractures

Pathological Conditions


Baur et al. (2007). Muscular activity in treadmill and overground running. Isoken Exerc Sci, 15(2):165-71.

Perez-Garcia et al. (2013). Effect of overground vs treadmill running on plantar pressure: influence of fatigue. Gait & Posture, 38(4):929-933.

Riley et al. (2008). A kinematic  and kinetic comparison of overground and treadmill running. Med Sci Sports Exerc, 40(6):1093-100.

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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