Forefoot Running in the Nike Frees – Bad Idea

Forefoot running in the Nike Frees might be challenging to maintain proper forefoot running technique. Furthermore, heel strike runners who transition to forefoot running may have a harder time adapting quickly to a forefoot strike if they wear the Nike Free.

Forefoot Running in the Nike Frees – Bad Idea

During the barefoot running boom, Nike proposed a running shoe with less under-heel protection and that would closely approximate being barefoot by allowing the foot to move naturally.

Nike Free Not for Forefoot Running Beginners
Because many runners in the Nike Free share similar kinematics to that of shod-heel strike runners, the Nike Free should not be regarded as a minimalist shoe for forefoot running.

The Nike Free (shown above) has a lower heel height compared to the standard running shoe, but has a higher heel height compared to pure minimalist shoes and this small amount of heel height spoils a proper forefoot strike landing.

Nike Free Produces Same Outcome as Standard Running Shoe

In a 2014 study, Pelt et al. found that 74% of runners in the Nike Free landed with a heel strike similar to runners in the standard running shoe.

The researchers investigated the effects of the Nike Free, the standard running shoe and barefoot running on 3D in-vivo foot and ankle motion during running. The runners in the study ran recreationally without barefoot running experience and performed the bulk of their running in the standard running shoe.

The researchers expected that the design of the Nike Free –flexible, small heel-toe differential, minor under-heel protection– would promote a non-heel strike landing (i.e. a forefoot strike).

However, the researchers found that runners in the Nike Free had strikingly similar ankle kinematics —increased ankle dorsiflexion— at touchdown as the heel strike runners in the standard running shoe. Therefore, the data is not convincing evidence of the Nike Free being regarded as a minimalist shoe for  forefoot running.

Overall, the biggest difference between footwear conditions was observed within the first 40% of early stance, or at touchdown –the phase of running gait associated with the greatest impact production. Likewise, heel striking has taken a leading role in causing this high impact magnitude.

With that said, the fact that runners are more likely to heel strike in the Nike Free increases safety concerns because the shoe lacks under-heel cushioning as compared to the standard running shoe –the shoe preferred by heel strike runners.

In contrast, runners are more keenly aware of their foot strike when barefoot or in ultra minimalist footwear and are more likely to avoid heel strike and minimize the high ground reaction forces during running. Ultimately, these findings support the notion that heel strike runners learn forefoot running best under barefoot or barefoot-like conditions.

The Take Home Message

Only when proprioception increases does an inexperienced forefoot runner learn to avoid heel strike, and cushioned running shoes are responsible for the loss of proprioception.

As good as any barefoot runner knows, proprioception plays a significant role in how we strike the ground with our feet when we run.

The Nike Free, which is unlike pure minimalist running shoes, is expected to cause heel strike because of the elevated, cushioned heel. Ultra pure minimalist shoes or running barefoot has more important advantages underlying proper technique modification because they yield better landing control.

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References:

Peltz et al. Effects of footwear on three-dimensional tibiotalar and subtalar joint motion during running. J Biomech, 2014; 47:2647-2653.

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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