Heel Strike Running Causes Overpronation

Pronation during running is strongly linked to foot strike pattern in that runners who heel strike pronate differently and have greater pronation overall than runners who are forefoot strikers. Essentially, overpronation is less likely to occur in forefoot running because it removes a lot of wasted movement of the foot than heel strike running, and here’s why:

Forefoot strike runners pronate much less because, for one, ground-contact time is shorter, which leaves less time for abnormal postures of the foot to occur. For another, impact pressure spreads out evenly over a larger surface area of the foot because there’s a much flatter placement of the foot with the ground at landing, shown below:

Forefoot Running Prevents Overpronation
In a forefoot strike landing, there’s a much flatter placement of the foot onto the ground. This helps impact pressure spread out across a larger area of the foot so the impact can be absorbed without creating dangerous over-pressure hot spots, which would otherwise push foot pronation out of a safer range.

Why Heel Strike Running Causes Overpronation

Landing with a heel strike when running produces greater impact pressure thats confined to a smaller area of the foot, causing overloads to the area. This is notoriously linked to forcing the foot to pronate more in efforts to attenuate the excessive impact, putting more stress on the foot and leg and leads to misalignments of the foot and leg.

This is also why many heel strike runners over-rely on external motion control support in the form of stability running shoes or arch support to limit the hyperpronation.

Worse still, another contributing factor for overpronation in heel strike running is the foot rollover process (shown below) increases ground contact time which was found to increase movement instability at the heel.

Heel Strike Running Causes Overpronation
Heel striking when running is typically accompanied by a burst of high impact on the heel. This heavy impact then travels narrowly through the middle of the foot and becomes heavily localized in the middle of the forefoot. This will negatively affect the stability of the foot because the foot is forced to pronate more to try and minimize the excessive impact pressure (because the impact cannot dissipate over a larger area of the foot, like it does in forefoot running). This is how heel strike running creates foot mechanics that work against you.

Case in point, study in the International Journal of Sport Biomechanics found that the heel underwent unusually large changes during ground contact when heel striking. These changes were also exacerbated in shod (shoe) conditions compared with barefoot conditions.

    • In the foot rollover process of heel strike running,  the load of the body is transferred from heel to toe, which causes the foot to grapple longer with the ground, which in turn, resulted in abnormal, straining movements of the heel.

      Heel Strike Running is the Main Cause of Overpronation
      After heel strike, the foot rollover process begins, where the entire weight of the body travels heel-to-toe. This was found to increase the amplitude of overpronation (side-to-side movements of the heel), which imposed higher pressure loads on the foot. This is especially evident in shod (shoe) running conditions as compared with running barefoot.

The researchers also found that the foot rollover process caused the heel to move beyond tolerance which increased torsion, tibial shock and pronation during takeoff, too!

This data confirms and reaffirms why there’s countless links between heel strike running and injuries whereby in addition to being significantly more force intensive, heel strike running increases physical stress and mechanical strain by preventing the load of the body from transferring over the foot safely as compared with forefoot running.

Lastly, heel motions are more constrained in forefoot running partly because the foot rollover process is eliminated, which is why ground-contact time is reduced.

Forefoot Running Prevents Overpronation
In forefoot running, the movement path of the foot from landing to liftoff is the complete opposite to heel strike running in that the foot moves forefoot-to-heel which was found to improve the stability of the heel by allowing a briefer interaction of the foot with the ground as compared with heel strike running.

In fact, the heel is actually the last part of the foot to contact the ground in a forefoot strike landing (shown above), and when it does, its so brief that postural instability as well as high impact has less time to occur. This is also why heel injuries are very rare in forefoot running. More on that here!

If you’ve enjoyed my post, you’ll love my YouTube channel here, where I talk more about why forefoot running is better than heel strike running as well as why barefoot running helps you run better in shoes!


[1]. Stacoff et al. The torsion of the foot in running. Int J Sport Biomech, 1989; 5:375-389.

[2]. Kersting, UG. The role of footwear-independent variations in rearfoot movement on impact attenuation in heel-toe running. Res Sports Med, 2006; 14:117-134

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!