I suffered a ton of lower leg injuries when I transitioned from heel strike to forefoot running. Not only was I hurt, forefoot running felt more challenging, until I learned that I was wrongly transitioning because I wore traditional running shoes. Not only that, studies show that there is no safety, nor performance benefit to these running shoes.
A recent study by Sterne et al., (2014) found that habitual heel strikers did not gain any economic advantage when they switched to forefoot running, but these runners weren’t wearing zero drop minimalist shoes, they were wearing traditional running shoes.
Don’t Wear Traditional Running Shoes When Learning Forefoot Running
It could be that switching from heel striking to forefoot running while wearing thickly cushioned running shoes may increase mechanical cost due to an increase in muscular work and power at the ankle and knee –simply because it’s harder to feel the ground while learning a new style of running in such thick cushioned running shoes. Also, in cushioned running shoes with a thick heel, your heel is unable to lower completely down to the ground which prevents the Achilles tendon from fully loading up with elastic energy.
The finding above contradicts well-established data that postulates forefoot running is more efficient on many levels. In many of these pro-forefoot running studies, the runners either ran barefoot or in barefoot-like running shoes. So, to get the best out of learning forefoot running is to do so under barefoot conditions, not shod, and here’s more reasons why:
Numerous studies found that heel strikers were more efficient kinematically and mechanically after the forefoot running technique was properly adapted under strict, guided barefoot conditions.
In the study by Sterne et al., (2014) all participants wore the same running shoe, the Nike Lunaracer, which is classified as a traditional running shoe.
Because of the heel height, such shoes cause a runner to heel strike and is a plausible explanation for the poor performance outcome when forefoot running was adopted. That is, the heel height of the Nike Lunaracer resulted in heel strike mechanics to be replicated while the runners were forefoot running and therefore, the shoes affected mechanical performance negatively.
Under proper instruction, using barefoot running to learn forefoot running prevents heel strike mechanics from being replicated, that is, stride length is reduced, stance limb position is closer to the center of mass, ankle plantarflexion is greater which reduces knee loads and diminishes the braking effect at touchdown, and most importantly, heel strike is avoided.
Although forefoot running cannot be learned overnight, graded barefoot running leads to a drastic transformation in foot strike. Why?
Simply because barefoot running removes the source of the problem = no more running shoes, no more repeated mechanical loading in the form of a heel strike.
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Lieberman et al. Foot strike and collision forces in habitually barefoot vs shod populations. Nature, 2010; 463:531-35.
Sinclar et al. The influence of barefoot and barefoot-inspired footwear on the kinetics and kinematics of running in comparison to conventional running shoes. Footwear Sci, 2013; 5:45-53.
Sterne et al. Joint kinetics in rearfoot vs forefoot running: implications of switching technique. Med Sci Sports Exerc, 2014.
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.