Forefoot running has gained almost universal acclaim for being a safer way to run as compared to heel strike running as mountains of evidence shows that forefoot strike running may suppress many of the harmful impact variables associated with heel strike running, suggesting that forefoot strike running could make the most positive difference in your injury prevention efforts.
More reasons to run forefoot comes from the observation that many of the best short, middle and long distance runners in the world utilize a forefoot strike landing pattern, NOT a heel strike, suggesting that adopting a forefoot strike running style could be the proactive step you may need to bolster your performance.
All in all, if you are a heel strike runner grappling with injuries, or if you are looking to improve your running performance, forefoot strike running may be the lightening rod to advance your performance and may be part of the solution to your injury problems AND, you will learn about how to run forefoot here!
Learn the Forefoot Running Technique
I always like to begin by underscoring that learning the forefoot running technique is much easier than you think! Why? Its hardwired in us, meaning that we as humans, who evolved as an endurance running species, have the full capacity to run barefoot without injury, thanks to the forefoot strike.
It is an inescapable fact that humans evolved as barefoot runners whereby barefoot running brings together the kind of mechanics that provides a volumized amount of cushioning which in part, involves a forefoot strike, not a heel strike.
It’s for this reason I believe that the effects of barefoot running are genuine in changing the conditions that enable you to obtain a more accurate, softer, responsive forefoot strike landing.
One of the well-known effects of running barefoot is reactivating the pressure and mechanoreceptors in the bottom of the bare foot which have strong links to the withdrawal reflexive system, stimulating more robust reflexive-withdrawal engagements of the leg that could lead to faster improvements in correcting mechanical discrepancies, such as over-striding, hyper-knee extension, poor hip extension and heel strike.
This is how running barefoot helps deepen the mechanical attributes that make more efficient use of your lower leg mechanics, especially foot strike mechanics, serving as a powerful remedy that could prevent a lot of negative outcomes. This is also why the concept ‘less is more’ is really starting to become conventional wisdom!
STEP 1. Barefoot Before Shoes
Because sensory feedback is enhanced, your brain becomes more focused on your landing strategy when you run barefoot and is the reason I think you are better able to learn forefoot striking when you run barefoot. Not to mention, the physical changes of the feet associated with barefoot running is another added benefit with greater clinical relevance as compared with traditional running shoes.
There’s an underlying assumption that running without shoes is bad and will cost you an injury, but this default assumption is beginning to breakdown as new evidence supports the idea that barefoot running is a more nurturing environment for not only improved foot and ankle strength, but if used properly, can be tremendously effective at fine-tuning your biomechanics.
Alberto Salazar believes that a little barefoot running, 2-3 times a week at 1-2 miles, is essential to improve foot strength and maintain adequate form. Not only that, Perkins et al. published a systematic review comparing the risks and benefits of barefoot and minimalist shod running and concluded that most minimalist shoes fail to fully replicate barefoot running. The results pointed to the fact that running economy and mechanics consistently differ between barefoot and minimalist shod running.
Need more convincing about the benefits of barefoot running? Click here to learn what going barefoot can do for you.
I’d like to make one last comment about barefoot running! Just to put the enormous value of barefoot running into broader context, if you really want to know how much of a strong influence barefoot running can have on being an effective partner in making your biomechanics more productive in a sustained capacity, look at the running form of most East African distance runners (most run forefooted)!
One of the components that benefited most of East African distance runners is their deep barefoot running experience during their youth, which in my view, is how they came to achieve such unprecedented biomechanical effectiveness when they run in shoes. That really is the most important takeaway: running barefoot during childhood and adolescence kept their (the East African’s) foot strength and efficient biomechanics going which helped them out later in life as shod runners. If you put barefoot running on your agenda, you too may have better mechanical readiness for when you run in shoes.
STEP 2. Hate the Thought of Going Barefoot? Minimalist Shoes to the Rescue!
If you have no desire for signing on to barefoot running, you can still get a high return on investment in rebuilding foot strength and function in minimalist running shoes — running shoes that are incredibly stretchable, flexible, have a paper-thin outsole and overall, have the architectural framework that compliments the anatomy of the foot. Always remember that when it comes to making long-term gains in foot strength and improved biomechanics, sensory engagement has to be present.
To give you a better idea about minimalist footwear, check out my posts on what a proper minimalist shoe should look like:
You cannot keep the feet in a weakened state and expect to get different results. Over-reliance on external foot support can worsen your efforts to emerge injury-free and this is becoming more immediately apparent in the scientific literature. With that in mind, I want you to be aware that there are shoes marketed as ‘minimalistic’, but are actually more structurally similar to the traditional running shoe. This is no good for learning forefoot running because again, there must be robust sensory engagements present to ensure more immediate reflexive withdrawal responses of the legs and feet, helping you land more lightly on your forefoot, effectuating better outcomes in silencing harmful impact forces. So, beware of running shoes advertised as a “minimalistic”, but FAIL to meet the structural and materialistic criteria for actually being minimalist. These shoes include:
STEP 3. Things to Avoid When Running Forefoot
The best way to change your heel strike into a forefoot strike is to learn what you must NOT do when learning forefoot runnig:
- Don’t Lift Forefoot Up Before It Strikes the Ground
- Don’t Run Too Upright
- Don’t Over-Extend Your Knees
- Don’t Learn on Grass
- Don’t Run Slow
Click here to learn the other DONTs of forefoot running.
STEP 4. Implementing the Proper Forefoot Mechanics
- Where Should You Look When You Run?
- Head Position
- The Forefoot Strike: Up Close and Personal / Avoid Toe Strike / Running Shoe Wear Pattern of a Forefoot Strike
- Leg Swing
- Arm Carriage & Swing / Why a Higher Arm Carriage May Be Better
- Push Less, Pull More as per Pose Running
- Never Begin Running Slow. Faster is Better
If you want more advice on proper forefoot running technique, you can send me a video/photos of your gait for me to analyze.
STEP 5. No Stretching!
- Stretching Impairs Pace Strategy in Highly Trained Middle Distance Runners
- Pre-Run Stretching Increases Stress Susceptibility in Muscle Fibers
- Why Warming Up is Better
- Stretching Spoils Leg Spring in Runners
- Studies Suggests Runners Don’t Need to be that Flexible
Drills/Strengthening Exercises for Forefoot Running
- Feet/Ankle Strengthening Exercises
- Balance Ankle Exercises to Improve Ankle Strength
- Butt-Kicking Drills
- Wobble Board
Struggling with Injury?
- Wear Pure Minimalist Shoes when Running with an Achilles Injury
- Nerve Problems in the Foot Solved
- Learn Forward if Your Knees Hurt
I also did a video where I elaborate more on the positive aspects of forefoot running and how it relates to good running performance and enhanced injury prevention measures:
More Running Tips For You:
Heel Strike – Heel strike running is not a fun way to run. Why? Because it causes injury, leaving you on the sidelines during races.
Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome – Many runners suffer this dreaded injury, but many runners don’t know why. This article covers the main cause of knee injury in runners.
Achilles Heel – Found out why heel strike running is such a daunting task for the Achilles tendon, resulting in injury to the tendon.
Eccentric Exercises – We often hear about eccentric exercises, but you can achieve them just by running barefoot; find out how.
Forefoot Shoe Review – Read my review on the FeelMax Osma 2, an under-appreciated forefoot running shoes that is a great tool to help you mechanically run your best.
Perkins et al. The risks and benefits of running barefoot or in minimalist shoes: a systematic review. Sports Health, 2014; 6(6):475.480.
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.