Forefoot Striking is Better for Running Uphill vs Heel Strike Running

They say uphill running is speed-work in disguise because its equally great for building strength and endurance, however running uphill with bad form will cause injuries. What’s considered bad vs good running form?

In running, especially uphill running, landing with a forefoot strike is significantly easier on the body than heel striking, shown below:

How to Fix Lower Back Pain From Running: Fix Your Foot Strike!
On average, heel strike runners (above right) produces more net impact because it engages a much more extended leg at touchdown which alters the position of the torso, causing it to push farther back behind initial foot strike position. This leads to higher rates and magnitudes of loading in the ground reaction force as compared with forefoot striking (above left), which reduces repeated load bearing by making it easier to prevent an over-stride and enables the torso to lean forward,  thereby decreases braking and speeds up the forward movement of the center mass with less muscular effort.

Its the over-stride and backwards position of the torso that makes uphill running very challenging for heel strike runners, since more strength and power is needed to overcome the sudden and prolong braking and burst in a high impact that occurs at each step. Conversely, forefoot running makes it easier to run uphill by making it safer.

  • The reason forefoot running makes uphill running safer than heel strike running is by dramatically reducing time spent braking via increasing frontal plane foot placements, which in turn, shortens stride length, while boosting stride frequency.
  • A foot strike that lands within the frontal plane means the feet are landing directly under the hip and not out in front as in heel strike running, where foot strike position occurs out of the frontal plane.

To achieve a frontal plane foot placement, the runner must make sure their feet land closer to under the body, rather than ahead of the body, like in heel strike running, shown more closely below:

How to Fix Lower Back Pain From Running: Fix Your Foot Strike!
Landing forefoot-first (above left) makes it easier for the foot to land closer to the hips, which corrects mechanical entanglements, such as over-striding and even a cross-over step pattern linked to shin splints and runners knee. In contrast, the farther back you strike on your heel (above right), the more farther ahead the foot tends to land farther ahead of the hips, which produces an array of impact forces that leads to injury. This is made worse when heel strike running uphill.

A frontal plane foot placement, engaged by forefoot striking, effectively allows the feet to remain closer to the mass of the body (which is the hips in running), which seems to be critical in preventing overreaching with the foot and the accompanying excessive loading.


The Take Home Message

It’s becoming more clear that forefoot running is better at reducing the opposing forces that cause injuries and that slow you down, especially while running uphill. In that regard, here are all the study-proven major advantages forefoot running has over heel strike running. 

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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!