As researchers continue to uncover the astonishing effects forefoot running has on health and performance, there are a few myths about forefoot running.
They are myths because there is no hard evidence that has emerged to date that directly implicates the negative effects of forefoot running on performance and health.
Debunking Myths About Forefoot Running
Myth 1: Forefoot Running is Less Economical than Heel Strike Running
It is true that forefoot running relies less on footwear and more on the body for cushioning. This is one of the reasons both barefoot and pure minimalist shod runners are able to run without discomfort and injury. From this, the muscles are assumed to work harder to dampen impact in forefoot running therefore the risk of pre-mature fatigue would be higher compared to heel strike running.
Likewise, heel strike runners are assumed to be ‘more economical’ because they rely on cushioned shoes to take more of the load from the musculature. This is a huge misconception because Robbins and Waked found that impact remained higher in cushioned running shoes because runners landed harder in them.
- The researchers speculated that a hard-landing strategy provoked by cushioned running shoes, worn by heel strike runners, was an attempt to compress the cushioned material to achieve a more stable surface.
As a result, a harder landing causes vibrations of soft tissue compartments which reduces movement efficiency. Therefore, heel striker runners run in ways that make them more likely to not only be less efficient, but to pick up an injury.
Myth 2: Forefoot Running is More Muscular Demanding
One study speculated that forefoot runners are less economical than heel strike runners because forefoot runners rely more on the musculature for cushioning. Therefore, forefoot running is more muscular demanding and more labor intensive.
This is a myth because forefoot running relies more on joint-flexion for cushioning as opposed to the leg muscles. Not only that, forefoot running reduces the ground reaction force and eliminates the heel strike-transient, leaving very little impact to be absorbed by the musculature!
Forefoot runners are exposed to less impact during ground contact because of increased knee and hip-joint flexion. In fact, modifications in knee and hip-joint flexion is a natural process evolved by humans to control stability when running barefoot.
Myth 3: Forefoot Running Increases Risk of Achilles Injury
The only reason it is assumed that forefoot running increases the risk of Achilles injury is due to the fact that the eccentric phase in forefoot running enables the Achilles tendon to store more elastic energy than a heel strike landing. Again, no hard evidence has linked forefoot running to Achilles injury, it is only a theory.
However, Smart et al. found that heel strike runners are at a higher risk of Achilles injury because the long ground contact time imposed by heel striking actually prolonged pronation, resulting in a whipping action on the Achilles.
The Take Home Message
Debunking the myths about forefoot running will hopefully arm heel strike runners who struggle with injury with the knowledge and confidence they need to transition to forefoot running. If you want more reassurance on the matter, always remember the best runners in the world are non-heel strike runners.
Here is a list of forefoot runners who hold world, national, olympic, etc. records:
- Paula Radcliffe: marathon WR, 10km road WR
- Kenenisa Bekele: two-miles indoor WR, 5,000m WR, 5,000m indoor WR, 10,000m WR
- Tirunesh Dibaba: 5,000m WR, 15km road WR
- Molly Huddle: 5,000 NR
- Kim Smith: 3,000m NR, 5,000m NR, 5km road NR, 10,000m NR, half marathon NR, marathon NR.
- Galen Rupp:10,000 NR,AR; 3,000m indoor AR, 2 mile indoor AR, 5,000m indoor AR
- Genzebe Dibaba: 1500m WR, 3,000m WR
- Bernard Lagat: 1500m AR, mile AR
….just to name a few.
More From Run Forefoot:
- Best Ways to Fuel Before Running
- Popular Minimalist Shoes for Forefoot Running
- How Heel Striking Increases Foot Bone Fracture Risk
- What is the Heel Strike Transient and Why it Hurts
- Common Causes of Running-Related Achilles Injury
- Energy Gel Reviews for Endurance Running
Fredrick EC. Measuring the effects of shoes and surfaces on the economy of locomotion. In: Nigg BM, Kerr BA. editors. Biomechanical aspects of sport shoes and playing surfaces. Calgary: University of Calgary, 1983:93-106.
Robbin, SE and Waked, E. Balance and vertical impact in sports: role of shoe sole materials. Arch Phys Med Rehabil, 1997; 78, 463-67.
Saunders et al. Factors affecting running economy in well-trained distance runners. Sports
Med, 2004; 34(7):465-485.
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.