What Causes a Runner to Overpronate

Pronation during running is linked to foot strike pattern in that runners who heel strike may pronate differently and have greater pronation than runners who are forefoot strikers.

Forefoot strikers are thought to pronate less because ground contact time is shorter as compared with heel strike running. Running with a heel strike however, causes a runner to overpronate due to instability of the rearfoot during foot rollover which increases ground contact time.

What Causes Runners to Overpronate

How Heel Strike Runners Overpronate

Most Heel Strike Runners are Overpronators
Foot rollover process in heel striking increases amplitude of rearfoot movement, imposing higher loads on the foot.

In heel strike running, the foot spends more time on the ground because of the foot rollover process.

A study by Stacoff et al. [1] found that the rearfoot underwent large changes during ground contact when heel striking and these changes were exacerbated in shod conditions compared with barefoot conditions.

  • The foot rollover process, where the load of the body is transferred from heel to forefoot, allows more time for abnormal movements of the heel to occur.

The researchers also found that during foot rollover, the heel moved very extensively which increased torsion and pronation during takeoff.

The data implies that heel strike running serves as an unstable platform, preventing the load of the body from transferring over the foot safely. This may impact the magnitude of rearfoot movements which in turn, may increase tibial shock as well [2].

Forefoot Strikers Less Likely to be Overpronators

In forefoot running, rearfoot movements occur, especially at touchdown, however the overall rearfoot movement is lesser because foot rollover is eliminated and takeoff is more passive compared to heel striking [1].

  • Ground contact time is reduced in forefoot running because the orientation of the foot relative to the ground is of a much flatter placement, suggesting that there is less time for unwanted foot motions to occur during stance.
Overpronation: Heel Strike vs Forefoot Strike
In forefoot running (above right), touchdown is much flatter and ground interaction is much shorter compared to heel striking (above left) which has multiple stages of ground interactions, i.e. heel strike, rollover, push-off)

Essentially, the interactions between the foot and the ground in forefoot running occurs at a more rapid, immediate rate than in heel strike running.

  • The heel is the last part of the foot to contact the ground in forefoot running and when the rearfoot reaches the ground, rearfoot movements are stopped.

The Take Home Message

Mechanically, a forefoot strike allows better control over rearfoot movements, partly because ground exposure is minimized.

Ultimately, heel strike running requires more mechanical effort to manage pronation of the foot, hence the use of motion control stability shoes.

The fact that the human body has not adopted a strategy to control pronation in heel striking is a plausible adaptive explanation for how we evolved to run with a forefoot strike instead.

More From Run Forefoot:

Leg Cramps 

What Changes Foot Strike?

Why Speed Work on the Heel is Dangerous

Who Gets Injured More – Forefoot Strikers or Heel Strikers?

Recommended Barefoot Running 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!

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