What’s the Best Long Distance Running Form?

There is a big black hole in the research regarding the best long distance running form. The proper way to run long distances certainly cannot be heel strike running since 80% of joggers heel strike and the injury rate among these runners is around 80%.

Best Long Distance Running Form

What’s the Best Long Distance Running Form?

Recent studies on Kenyan barefoot runners who mostly land with a forefoot strike, suggests that forefoot strike running is the correct running form for distance runners simply because it’s safer.

  • forefoot strike running eliminates the heel strike-transient and leads to positive changes in the elastic properties of the Achilles tendon.

Ever since the barefoot-minimalist running movement emerged, many joggers view forefoot strike running as a ‘new’ running form. Forefoot strike running has been around for millions of years. And for some reason, literature on forefoot strike running is scarce, probably because most Western runners heel strike.

Unfortunately, we know more about heel strike running which makes little sense because it’s not the correct running form. What we do know about forefoot strike running however, is that hominids ran barefoot as hunters and gatherers and ran with a forefoot strike for optimal protection.

Though, you could argue that hominids were not running on asphalt and their bodies were not exposed to the abuse that runners encounter today by running on cemented surfaces, many East African runners have completed and won marathons while running barefoot on the roads. This is because most East African distance runners forefoot strike.

  • Lieberman at el. found that forefoot strike running is safer on harder surfaces because the heel strike-transient does not occur.
  • no relationship between surface hardness and higher impact production exists in forefoot strike runners because impact production relates to foot strike pattern, not surface hardness.
  • in the case of heel strike running on pavement, the impact-transient produced reflects the heel strike pattern, not surface hardness and is why heel strike running on grass does nothing to reduce the impact-transient.

Which now brings me to this: we fail to consider that most East African runners began training as barefoot runners, running with a forefoot strike and with less impact compared to us.

New style of running
Some may consider forefoot running as a new style of running, yet for millions of years, early humans were forefoot running, and elite runners are mostly forefoot strikers.

Barefoot running is the driver of foot strength, muscle flexibility, balance control, safe foot strike mechanics and the correct running form for distance runners.

Thus, to gain a better understanding of how the musculoskeletal system works in forefoot strike running, studies should focus less on heel strike runners and more on habitual forefoot strike runners who grew up running barefoot. Why? Because we can learn a lot from how  natural forefoot strikers run because they run correctly and have been doing so since day one!

The Take Home Message

Forefoot strike running is nothing new, it has been around longer than heel strike running. Yet, we know more about heel strike running and have failed to conjure up approaches to heel strike safely. Even more disappointing, researchers have come at it with various approaches such as increasing protection under the heel, running on grass, or on a treadmill, but have failed to establish how to heel strike safely.

Why continue to investigate how to heel strike safely when it simply cannot be done because it is not the correct running form humans evolved for.

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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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