Heel Strike Runners Run Hard On Any Surface

Before I discovered forefoot running, I was a heel strike runner, but my problem with heel striking was my long list of injuries that just would not go away. I tried everything: buying thicker cushioned running shoes to running on softer surfaces, such as a treadmill or grass, but none of this worked.

These days, most experts believe that heel strike running is the wrong way to run because of the impact shock generated during the initial contact phase, and that forefoot strike running is the correct way to run because this impact shock is completely eliminated.

But if a heel strike runner is stubborn, like many runners, and does not want to change their running form, can they run on softer surfaces to minimize impact shock? The answer is no.

Heel Strike Runners Run Harder on Any Surface
Heel strike runners are no better off running on grass than concrete because the act of heel striking will always generate impact shock.

Heel Strike Runners Run Hard On Any Surface

No matter what surface a heel strike runner runs on, an impact shock will always be biomechanically generated  –its just the way it goes.  Another problem with heel strike running is that it sends more force pressure over the foot.

A study by Fu et al., 2015 investigated the effects of running on different surfaces, such as concrete, grass, a treadmill,  and a synthetic track,  on in-shoe plantar pressure and tibial acceleration in runners who used a heel strike landing and found that running surface did not effect force pressure at the forefoot, midfoot and the medial and lateral areas and among all the surfaces, the greatest peak pressure was at the heel, suggesting that running on softer surfaces does not reduce peak force pressure in runners who run with a heel strike.

Foot strike pattern is the MOST important influence on impact generation. This is why it is very important to run with a forefoot strike, instead of a heel strike because less impact is delivered to the body, especially in the foot,  in a forefoot strike landing.  So, when it comes to injury prevention in running, foot strike modification, not surface type should be considered as a major factor.

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Fu et al. Surface effects on in-shoe plantar pressure and tibial impact during running. J Sport Health Sci, 2015; 4, 384-390.


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!