Running in Cushioned Footewear Increases Loading Rates

Prefer to run in cushioned heeled running shoes? Well, even if you run with a forefoot strike, a running style associated with considerably less loading rates than a heel strike running style, there is more proof that cushioned heeled running shoes (i.e. the standard running shoe) increase loading rates no matter what.

Loading Rates
Even running with a forefoot strike landing (the lighter way to run), loading rates might be higher in cushioned running shoes than in barefoot-inspired footwear.

Running in Cushioned Footwear Increases Loading Rates

As a general rule, minimalist shoes are strongly recommended to new forefoot runners, especially those who were heel strike runners because flatter, more minimalistic footwear helps a runner avoid making initial ground contact on the heel (Rice et al. 2016). However, many new forefoot runners are afraid to run with less cushioning to avoid injury and therefore, continue running in standard running shoes. But, new reports show that despite adopting a forefoot strike running style, the standard running shoe generates threatening loading rates and are not always effective in preventing injuries.

A study by Rice et al. 2016 compared the ground reaction forces and loading rates in heel strike runners who ran in the standard running shoe, forefoot runners who ran in the standard running shoe, and forefoot runners who ran in minimalist running shoes. The researchers found that the forefoot runners who ran in standard running shoes had the highest posterior and medial impact peak as compared with the heel strike runners who ran in the standard running shoe. Lateral impact peaks and vertical loading rates were the lowest in the minimalist forefoot runners, suggesting that running with a forefoot strike in minimalist running shoes is the perfect combination to avoid high impact landings.

So, why did the forefoot runners who ran in the standard running shoe have greater loading rates than the forefoot runners in minimalist footwear?

According to the researchers, a smaller heel (as in a minimalist shoe) results in a smaller moment arm around the heel at touchdown and during stance meaning that the foot strikes the ground ahead of the heel, resulting in less heel-to-toe roll through and also resulting in less pronation and tissue stress of the foot. This is why running in minimalist footwear may lead to less stress reactions.

In summary, the study showed that the loading rates in heel strike and forefoot strike runners were similar in the standard running shoe. The lowest loading rates came forefoot runners who ran in minimalist running shoes, which strongly suggests footwear plays an essential role in loading production. Therefore, if you choose to run in thick, cushioned heeled running shoes, you may continue to harbor higher loading rates than if you were to run in minimalist running shoes.

The researchers also compared loading rate production in forefoot runners who ran in partial minimalist footwear (less barefoot-feeling) vs full minimalist footwear (most barefoot-feeling) and found that full minimalist running shoes resulted in the lowest loading rates, reinforcing the common notion the less shoe really means more protection. The researchers also noticed that the forefoot runners who ran in partial minimalist running shoes produced impact peaks similar to a heel strike landing!

Loading Rates in Running
You probably already know that high loading rates is bad for your health, making you more susceptible injury. But, minimalist running shoes that are most sock-like, or barefoot-like, gives you more control over you foot strike, helping you land on your forefoot.

From this, the researchers stressed that even an experienced forefoot runner can produce harder foot landings in cushioned running shoes as compared with minimalist running shoes.

Perhaps, if you are properly forefoot running, yet experience muscle pain, your cushioned running shoes may be causing you to strike the ground harder than you should be. For ideas on the appropriate footwear for forefoot running, click here to read my reviews on the most top-rated minimalist running shoes.

More From Run Forefoot:

Injuries Associated with Heel Strike Running

Train Like the Pros

Barefoot Running Training Plan

Why Go Barefoot Before Minimal


Rice et al. Footwear matters: Influence of  footwear and foot strike on loadrates during running. Med Sci Sports Exerc, 2016; DOI: 10.1249/MSS.0000000000001030.

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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