How Forefoot Runners Run wtih Less Impact than Heel Strikers

Forefoot runners are more biomechanically tactile at reducing collision impact as compared with heel strike runners. Aside from a forefoot strike being a safer, softer landing than a heel strike landing, forefoot runners utilize knee and hip flexion to effectively reduce impact as compared with heel strike running.

How Forefoot Runners Run With Less Impact Than Heel Strikers

How Forefoot Runners Run wtih Less Impact

Running barefoot is the most power thing that maximizes knee and hip flexion when forefoot running. Many studies have found that knee and hip flexion is a reflexive reaction which provides high impact protection to running barefoot, especially on hard surfaces such as pavement, allowing running shoe-less to feel comfortable.

  • Knee and hip flexion refers to the bendability of the these respective joints whereby high knee flexion indicates a greater knee-bend.
  • By default, increased knee and hip flexion are the body’s natural mechanisms to provide additional impact protection during forefoot running when barefoot.
Running Barefoot Increases Knee and Hip Flexion
To reduce impact when running barefoot, the body reflexively increases knee and hip flexion (i.e. more bend) at touchdown.

During barefoot running, modifications in knee and hip flexion are characterized as an automatic process that occurs quickly and efficiently, and out of the realm of conscious awareness. Again, this is how knee and hip flexion is a reflexive reaction that is a habitual behavior evolved by humans.

One of the best known studies to illustrate the power of knee and hip flexion during barefoot running came from Dr. Lieberman and Dr. Robbins.

  • Much of their research has confirmed that barefoot runners are well-capable of moderating impact dramatically via increased knee and hip flexion during ground contact.

This is why running shoes are not needed for impact reduction in forefoot running: humans possess their own ability to regulate impact moderating behavior via automatic impulses to adjust joint flexion accordingly to surface hardness.

Thin Forefoot Running Shoes Better Knee and Hip Flexion

If you prefer not to run barefoot, at least run in a barefoot-like running shoe.

It turns out that thick shoe cushioning is useless for impact reduction, even for forefoot running.

  • Amplitude of impact is directly related to the amplitude of knee and hip flexion whereby running in thick cushioned running shoes increases the amplitude of impact at touchdown.
  • This means that the body failed to deliver the right amount of knee and hip flexion to help reduce impact.
Heel Strike Running Reduces Knee & Hip Flexion
Runners in cushioned heeled running shoes have lesser knee and hip flexion. That is, they strike the ground with a more straightened knee and with greater hip extension.

As a result, impact is higher in cushioned forefoot running shoes because they reduce knee and hip flexion and therefore, are considered a major source of injury.

When it comes to injury, the root of the problem is often the shoe which spurs changes to ones forefoot running technique, including delayed or reduced knee and hip flexion.

Experts are finally starting to realize that with all the technology fabricated into the modern running shoe, such footwear fails to deliver the same impact protection as the human body during barefoot running. Why? Because the bare foot requires only one simple stimulus to trigger adequate moderations in hip and knee flexion and that is the natural ground.

  • Unnatural surfaces such as shoe cushioning extensively impairs this reflexive action, exposing the body to more impact.

The Best Ways to Optimize Knee and Hip Flexion for Forefoot Running

If you are skeptical about running barefoot, the next best thing is zero drop, barefoot shoes as these shoes increase knee flexion, too. And, a study by Clark et al. found that running shoes with harder midsoles increased knee flexion. Remember, greater joint flexion during running means the body is doing its job at lowering impact.

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References:

CLARKE , T. E., E. C. FREDERICK , and L. B. COOPER . Biomechanical measurement of running shoe cushioning properties. In: Biomechanical Aspects of Sport Shoes and Playing Surfaces, B. M. Nigg
and B. A. Kerr (Eds.). Calgary: University of Calgary, 1983, pp.25–33.

FREDERICK , E. C., T. E. CLARKE , J. L. LARSEN , and L. B. COOPER .The effects of shoe cushioning on the oxygen demands of running.In: Biomechanical Aspects of Sports Shoes and Playing Surfaces,
B. M. Nigg and B. A. Kerr (Eds.). Calgary: University Printing, 1983, pp. 107–114.

McNitt-Gray JL, Yokoi T. The influence of surface characteristics on the impulse characteristics of drop landings. Proceedings of the 13′ Annual Meeting of the American Society of Biomechanics. Vermont: American Society of Biomechanics, 1989: 92-3.

Robbins S, Waked EG. Humans amplify impact to compensate for instability caused by shoe sole materials. Arch Phys Med Rehabil 1997;78:463-7.

Robbins SE and Waked E. Hazard of deceptive advertising on athletic footwear. Br J Sports Med, 1997; 31:299-303.

WRIGHT , I. C., R. R. NEPTUNE , A. J. VAN DEN BOGERT , and B. M. NIGG . Passive regulation of impact forces in heel-toe running. Clin. Biomech. 13:521–531, 1998.

Bretta Riches

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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