Forefoot Striking – Shoes vs Barefoot

Every year, you’ll find running-related injuries very high. This is why many runners are transitioning away from heel striking to forefoot striking. To a new forefoot running beginner, running barefoot is best to signal how your foot is striking the ground. Having a clear perception of your forefoot strike while you are running is vital for avoiding injury. This is why it is important to run barefoot, or in running shoes with very minimal cushioning and support.

Why?

Forefoot Striking - Barefoot vs Shoes
Upgrade your forefoot striking form by running barefoot more often.

You Can’t Feel Your Forefoot Strike in Cushioned Running Shoes

Cushioned running shoes fools the brain into ‘disowning’ the foot while you run, causing adequate foot strike mechanics to go awry, making you land improperly on your foot, with more impact without noticing it.

A proponent of barefoot running, Steven Robbins, MD at McGill University, reported that cushioned running shoes induces a perceptual illusion whereby perceived impact is significantly lower than actual impact. This means that in cushioned running shoes, the conscious mind thinks foot strike is soft and light, however impact is actually greater as compared with running barefoot.

Cushioned Running Shoes Impair Natural Reflex Mechanisms

Shoe cushioning increases a runners’ experiences of these type of perceptual illusions to the point where the brain’s fear circuits are now affected: runners think the shoe protects them from impact and become less protective cognitively of their body, suggesting that the brain areas involved in impact-moderating behavior and withdrawal urges become less active during shod running.

Forefoot Striking - Shoes vs Running Barefoot
Running shoes creates a false perception of impact through an illusion, fooling the brain into thinking that foot strike is comfortable when really, more impact is produced.
  • In cushioned running shoes, the brain responds more slowly in terms of impact moderating behavior than it does when running barefoot, suggesting that the brain ‘forgets’ about the feet, resulting in risky landings.

However, as soon as a shod runner runs barefoot, there’s an uptick in activity in the brain’s premotor and parietal cortices, which enables the brain to do a better job at integrating movement information.

This is why barefoot runners land with less impact, because their mind is alert of how their feet interact with the ground, causing them to be more protective of their landings. Not only that, barefoot running induces greater nerve activation in the feet which allows the body to have complete control over basic reflexive-withdrawal functions to improve landing quality.

These results offer the tantalizing suggestion that how a runner consciously perceives his or her foot strike is the main gateway to running injury free.

Click here to discover how cushioned running shoes does more harm than good for runners!

More From Run Forefoot:

Vibram KMD Sport – Recommended forefoot running shoe, great for road or treadmill running.

Sore Knees – Find out why your knees hurt when you run.

Achilles Tendon Injury – Learn how heel strike running increases repetitve strain on the body’s toughest tendon.

Barefoot Running Benefits – Discover another hidden benefit of barefoot running.


References:

Robbins SE and Gouw GJ. Athletic footwear: unsafe due to perceptual illusions. Med Sci Sports Exerc, 1991; 23(2):217-24.

Wenner, M. The perception of self: when the mind is fooled into disowning a limb, body functions go awry. Scientific American MIND, Jan. 2009:8-9.

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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