Can Heel Strikers Increase Step Rate to Prevent Stress Fractures?

It was well acknowledged that forefoot running is associated with a higher step rate and that forefoot running is also associated with less loading rates.

Likewise, running-related stress fractures are mostly caused by overall impact intensity governed by loading rate.

Findings from other work have provided the strongest statistical support for the conclusion that the high impact nature and loading of heel strike running predisposes a heel striker to stress fractures more than forefoot strikers.

But what if a heel striker adopts similar mechanical traits to that of forefoot running, such as a higher step rate? Will doing so reduce the loading rate that causes stress fractures?

The answer is no.

Increasing step rate in heel strike running
Increasing step rate in heel strike running does not reduce impact peaks that influence the loading rate that cause stress fractures.

A study by Giandolini et al., (2012) found that loading rate was unaffected when heel strikers increased their preferred step rate by 10%. Therefore, heel strike running causes high loading rate regardless of step rate variation and the data from the study clearly indicated that loading rate is dependent on foot strike pattern.

Further, when the heel strike runners switched to a non-heel strike landing pattern while wearing the Vibram Five Fingers and ran with a higher step rate, the impact peak was completely removed, resulting in a 50% reduction in loading rate.

So, its most likely that the predominant origin of the high loading rates that contribute to running-related stress fractures is foot strike, or a heel strike to be specific.

The only way that increasing step rate will substantially reduce loading rate is to do so by utilizing a non-heel strike pattern, such as a forefoot strike.

Biomechanical adaptations to forefoot running coupled with increased step rate seems to go hand-in-hand for better shock attenuation probably because forefoot running has been a hominid strategy to run barefoot over long distances for millions of years.

More From Run Forefoot:


Giandolini et al. Impact reduction during running: efficiency of simple acute interventions in recreational runners. Eur J Appl Physiol, 2013; 113:599-609.

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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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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