When runners transition abruptly from running in a heavily cushioned, heeled shoe to heel striking in minimalist shoes, they almost immediately get injured.
Run in a Minimalist Shoe, Only if You Plan on Forefoot Running
Previous work has found that forefoot running distributed impact over a larger plantar surface area compared with heel striking.
The finding led scientist to have every reason to believe that runners should be running on their forefoot, not their heel.
If heel strikers choose to heel strike a minimalist shoes, the magnitude of force production skyrockets as the heel is unprotected both naturally and in a minimalist shoe. By naturally, I am referring to the fact that the heel pad has been found to breakdown at certain speeds during heel strike running,
This is why runners should never consider running with a heel strike in minimalist shoes, unless they adopt a forefoot strike.
Although, minimalist shoes have been implicated in enhancing running gait, a poor understanding of forefoot running mechanics undermines the health and performance assets of running in a minimalist shoe.
Minimalist Shoes May Not Automatically Encourage Forefoot Strike
The thick heel of a running shoe has been linked to cause a heel strike landing during running, and minimalist shoes may not correct for heel strike either. This has been supported by many studies:
- heel strike runners who switched from their preferred shoe (a cushioned heeled shoe) to a minimalist shoe, maintained heel strike when running
A 2014 study in The American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, examined any short-term adaptations in foot strike mechanics among heel strike runners, who typically wore thick cushioned heeled footwear, as they transitioned to minimalist footwear, the Vibram Five Fingers Bikila (VFFs) shown right.
The heel strike runners were asked to run with their preferred foot strike when in the VFFs even though they were informed that most habitual minimalist runners are forefoot strikers.
- only 26% of the heel strike runners adopted a forefoot strike in the VFFs
- 2 of the heel strike runners who maintained heel strike withdrew from the study due to lateral knee pain.
- 71% maintained heel strike in the VFFs.
- heel strike runners who maintained heel strike in the VFFs had a vertical loading rate 3 times greater than those who adopted a forefoot strike. This is why heel strike running in minimalist shoes is very bad.
A high vertical loading rate may result in lower leg injuries such as tibial stress fractures, patellofemoral pain syndrome, and plantar fasciitis, and is generally greater in a heel strike, not in a forefoot strike.
Why minimalist shoes do not always encourage a forefoot strike. The rubber outsole on a minimalist shoe dampens sensory input from the feet which may impede proper foot strike modification. To overcome this limitation, running barefoot in small amounts before going minimal, making the conscious effort to land on your forefoot is an effective way to ditch your heel strike.
More Great Stuff at Run Forefoot:
- Online Stories that Sell Vibram FiveFingers
- Thick Heeled Running Shoes Impair Running Form Causing Lower Leg Injury
- The Purpose of the Toe Shoes in Running
- More on Heel Strike Running
- Running with Cold Feet
Run forefoot because you are faster than you think!
Hreljac et al. (2000). Evaluation of lower extremity overuse injury potential in runners.
Willison et al. (2014). Short-term changes in running mechanics and foot strike pattern after introduction to minimalistic footwear.
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.