I know you would think of it being an energy drainer, but a higher running step rate, that is, taking quicker and shorter steps when running, will help you save more energy than if you took long, over-extended strides with your legs.
A higher running step rate is more economical in forefoot running than in heel strike running because the internal and external work on the body is significantly lower, this results in less mechanical power to move the body’s center of mass (torso and head) forward.
Increase Your Running Step Rate to Be a More Efficient Forefoot Runner
Forefoot runners have a higher step rate than most heel strike runners partly because the center of mass (COM) is positioned more forward in forefoot running, whereas in heel strike running, the COM is more back behind initial foot strike position, resulting in rapid deceleration (greater brake force).
- In running, the COM is assumed to be fixed in the head/trunk and in forefoot running, the COM is concentrated more anteriorly where in heel strike running, the COM is more posterior.
For an anterior position of the COM, a subtle forward lean must be implemented as per Dr. Romanov of Pose Running. Dr. Romanov suggests leaning from the ankle during forefoot running helps drive momentum rather than using the feet for propulsion with the ground.
By creating a continual forward lean from the ankle, the body is continuously falling forward causing rapid intervals of ground-contact and removal of the foot from the ground with each step.
Interestingly, the running gait in children is considered to be more efficient than adult recreational runners for the reason that children use a higher step frequency because they have shorter legs.
- Schepens et al. (2000) reported that children with a higher step frequency than adults had less braking and better mechanical efficiency due to a reduction in both the lower part of the oscillation and the vertical displacement at each step.
Does that mean shorter people run faster? No. it just means stop taking large strides when you run because exaggerated strides, especially in heel strike running, equates to more internal and external work on the body, as shown below.
Internal and external work is lower in forefoot running because the trunk is continuously pushing forward where the legs have little time to swing out in front of the body. Therefore, the feet land very close to the trunk.
- Schepens et al. (2001) found that the total mechanical work of running decreased when runners forcibly increased their step frequency above their preferred step frequency.
Increasing step frequency saves energy in forefoot running because the COM is always close to foot strike position and therefore, less muscular power is needed to move the body’s COM against the force of gravity.
Essentially, an anterior position of the COM coupled with allowing the feet to fall under the body reduces mechanical power spent against gravity.
On a last note, most Ethiopian runners, such as Tirunesh Dibaba, have a nice long stride when they run, not short choppy strides as in Pose Running. However, despite presenting a longer stride, the stride frequency of most Ethiopian distance runners is generally higher compared to most Non-African distance runners due to a more anterior position of the COM.
Want to Learn More About Forefoot Running?
- Alberto Salazar: Run Like a Sprinter to be a Great Distance Runner
- Puff Up Chest to Accelerate
- Improve Your Forefoot Strike by Avoiding Unnatural Surfaces
- Best Shoes for Forefoot Running
- Why You Should Drink Coffee, Even Iced Coffee Before You Go Run
Schepens, B., Willems, PA., Cavagna, GA and Heglund, NC. Mechanical power and efficiency in running children. Eur J Physiol, 2001; 442:107-116.
Schepens, B., Willems PA and Cavagna, GA.Mechanics of running in children. J Physiol (Lond), 1998; 509:927–940
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.