Why Heel Striking Has You Injured

Among the many ways heel striking when running will get you injured, the jerky movements of this running style fosters chronic injuries that keeps a runner side-lined for a long time. Ultimately, from a health and performance perspective, heel strike running really brings no reward.

Because they run with more jerky movements, heel strike runners suffer more injuries with greater severity than forefoot runners. But why do heel strike runners run this way?

Heel strike runners have a jerky stride because their foot-ground interactions are jarred whereby stride smoothness is influenced by foot-ground interactions (foot strike pattern) at touchdown.

Why Heel Striking Has You Injured

Why Heel Striking Has You Injured

In heel strike running, the greatest jerky movements occur at touchdown. This is also where the most joint loading occurs as well as the heel strike-transient [1].

The smoother part of heel strike running occurs during the swing phase –the phase of running-gait associated with the least amount of injuries [2], but this means nothing because much of the damage is done at heel strike.

In addition, the braking force produced at heel strike is associated with a high jerk value which negates stride smoothness parameters, such as acceleration.

Jerky Movements in Heel Strike Running Fosters Injury

  • Braking occurs because foot strike position at heel strike is ahead of the center of mass.

In recent years, research has strongly correlated this braking force with a number of running injuries.

Thus, minimizing jerky movements by reducing the braking force at touchdown during running minimizes the risk of injury.

The winning formula for smoothing-out the chaotic landing at heel strike is to land on the forefoot, specifically in a minimalist shoe, or barefoot, which helps establish more control over a proper forefoot strike and thus a smoother landing.

Forefoot Running: the Smoothing Method

Ankle plantar flexion at touchdown in forefoot running buffers jerky movements. In the behavioral component of forefoot running, ankle plantar flexion is achieved by letting the forefoot fall to the ground and deliberately avoiding over-controlling movements in the foot.

Forefoot running is, in a sense, the sunnier side of running as it minimizes the darker features of heel strike running. For instance, the jerky movements at heel strike are related to insufficient coordination -this is why heel strike runners look less coordinated and more ‘choppy’ with their movements compared to habitual forefoot runners who have a much more fluid gait.

More From Run Forefoot:

Benefits of Forefoot Running

How to be a Better for Forefoot Runner

Best Minimalist Shoes

What is Proprioception

Mud Obstacle Course Races


[1]. Nigg BM. Biomechanics of Running Shoes. Champaign, IL:Human Kinetics, 1986.

[2]. Hreljac, A. Stride smoothness evaluation of runners and other athletes. Gait and Posture, 2000; 11:199-206.

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

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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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