Many Minimalist Shod Runners have Strong Tendency to Unintentionally Heel Strike

You may think you are forefoot striking in a minimalist shoe, but there is a high chance you might slip up and heel strike a lot more than you think.

Minimalist runners heel strike without knowing itA new study by Goss et al. investigated the accuracy of self-reported forefoot strike patterns between runners who wore the standard running shoe and minimalist running shoes. The researchers found that almost 43% of the runners who switched from the standard running shoe to a minimalist running shoe 6 months prior to the study maintained heel strike. That is, almost half of the minimalist shod runners thought they were forefoot striking, but were actually heel striking.

Because many of the minimalist shod runners had a strong tendency to unintentionally heel strike, the researchers concluded that the accuracy of self-reported forefoot strike pattern was poor in runners who wore minimalist footwear. These runners also produced a vertical impact force, the same force produced in heel strike running, which causes injury.

The researchers theorized that because minimalist running shoes are marketed to reinforce a forefoot strike, the minimalist runners may have assumed that these shoes would have automatically facilitated a forefoot strike landing without having to exert conscious effort to monitor their foot strike.

However, past reports have confirmed that heel strike runners are not expected to automatically adopt a forefoot strike in minimalist footwear due to weak proprioception. On the other hand, habitual shod heel strike runners who use barefoot running as a guide to learn forefoot running, avoid heel strike with better proficiency. This is made possible with the combination of both negative and positive reinforcement.

Barefoot Outpaces Minimalism

In terms of negative reinforcement, running barefoot excites plantar proprioceptors that promote reflexive responses while also inhibiting actions that would lead to high impact landings. At first, the feel of the ground while barefoot is perceived as uncomfortable, however this triggers positive reinforcement, promoting impact moderating behavior, allowing a barefoot runner to make the ground feel comfortable on their feet.

Although, the researches did not mention whether the minimalist footwear in the study was partial or full minimal, nonetheless, shoe cushioning impairs a runner’s ability to learn from their heel striking mistakes. Likewise, one study found that runners in partial minimalist running shoes were less able to adopt a forefoot strike compared to runners in full minimalist running shoes.

The Take Home Message

The data implies that it is common for minimalist runners to have a weak response to foot strike errors, suggesting that proprioception exerts its effect on learning from sensory feedback. To worsen the scenario, many types of minimalist running shoes contain too much cushioning for the shoe to be considered minimal. The result is insensitivity to unpleasant impacts during running which blatantly contributes to injury.

The trick is to aim for a more proprioceptive-based forefoot running learning strategy which includes graded bouts of barefoot running to improve the brain and body’s responses to subconscious and conscious errors in foot strike. This in turn, will help prevent you from goofing up on your foot strike without knowing it in your minimalist footwear.

More From Run Forefoot:


Davis I, Bowser B, Mullineaux D. Do impacts cause running injuries? A prospective study. Paper presented at: 34th Annual Meeting of the American Society of Biomechanics; August 18–21, 2010; Providence, RI.

Davis I., Bowser B, Hamill J. Vertical impact loading in runners with a history of patellofemoral pain syndrome. Paper presented at: The 57th Annual Meeting of the American College of Sports Medicine; June 2–5, 2010; Baltimore, MD.

Davis I, Milner C, Hamill J. Does increased loading during running lead to tibial stress fractures? A prospective study. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2004;36(5):S58.

Goss et al. Lower extremity biomechanics and self-reported foot-strike patterns among runners in traditional and minimalist shoes. J Athl Train, 2014; 49(6).

Milner CE, Ferber R, Pollard CD, Hamill J, Davis IS. Biomechanical factors associated with tibial stress fracture in female runners. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2006;38(2):323–328.

Noehren B, Davis I, Hamill J. ASB clinical biomechanics award winner 2006 prospective study of the biomechanical factors associated with iliotibial band syndrome. Clin Biomech (Bristol,
Avon). 2007;22(9):951–956.

Pohl MB, Hamill J, Davis IS. Biomechanical and anatomic factors associated with a history of plantar fasciitis in female runners. Clin J Sport Med. 2009;19(5):372–376.

Pohl MB, Mullineaux DR, Milner CE, Hamill J, Davis IS. Biomechanical predictors of retrospective tibial stress fractures in runners. J Biomech. 2008;41(6):1160–1165.

Squadrone R and Gallozzi C. Biomechanical and physiological comparison of barefoot and two shod condition. J Sports Med Phys Fitness, 2009;49(1):6-13

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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!

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