Heel striking poses a significant obstacle for proper foot health and function. This is why I love forefoot running so much because it is a great way to naturally strengthen the plantar flexors. Why is plantar flexor strength important? For one, it helps protect the Achilles tendon from injury.
Weak Plantar Flexors with Heel Striking
When you don’t use it, you lose it. This logic reflects how heel strike running effects plantar flexor strength. Because heel strike runners use their dorsiflexors more, these runners are more susceptible to plantar flexor weakness.
Comparatively, forefoot running facilitates stronger plantar flexors because making initial ground-contact on the forefoot increases eccentric contractions of the plantar flexor muscles.
How Weak Plantar Flexors Contribute to Injury
Plantar flexor weakness has many bad influences on biomechanics —long ground contact time and balance impairments –to name a few. Another danger of weak plantar flexors is that it contributes to Achilles tendon overuse injury in runners .
Plantar flexor weakness is also as a predictor of Achilles tendon overuse injury because weak plantar flexors are less able to absorb impact, thereby increasing shock exposure to the Achilles tendon.
Forefoot running however, has everything to do with improving plantar flexor strength because it requires greater muscle force in the plantar flexors compared to heel strike running .
In addition, forefoot running also involves a plantar flexed ankle during stance as the plantar flexors along with adjacent muscles work together to ensure stability, especially on uneven terrain.
Other experts found that the plantar flexors store and release more elastic energy in forefoot running compared to heel strike running [3,4], helping reduce metabolic costs. Altogether, this is how forefoot running manifestly improves plantar flexor strength, by relying more on active mechanisms such as eccentric contractions of the plantar flexors.
And finally, the fact that forefoot running improves plantar flexor strength illustrates a paradigm shift in treatments for running-related overuse injuries such as Achilles tendinopathy.
Remember, running barefoot directly improves plantar flexor strength by encouraging a forefoot strike landing. But if you are not fond of running barefoot, you can check out these barefoot like running shoes to help with your forefoot running form.
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Gruber AH. Mechanics and energetics of footfall patterns in running. Dissertations, 2012. University of Massachusetts.
Pratt DJ. Mechanisms of Shock Attenuation Via the Lower Extremity During Running. Clin Biomech (Bristol, Avon). 1989; 4(1):51-57.
Williams DS, McClay IS, Manal KT. Lower Extremity Mechanics in Runners with a Converted Forefoot Strike Pattern. J App Biomech. 2000; 16(2):210-218.
Williams KR and Cavanagh PR. Relationship between Distance Running Mechanics, Running Economy, and Performance. J Appl Physiol. 1987;63(3):1236-1245.
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.
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