It is true that a longer Achilles tendon makes you an efficient runner, partly because a longer Achilles tendon gives you better, natural spring to your stride, but it also stores more elastic strain energy. So what is the secret to a longer Achilles tendon?
The latest research shows that running barefoot is great for eccentrically lengthening the Achilles tendon because it encourages a forefoot strike landing, and by running barefoot allows the heel to fully lower to the ground right after the forefoot strikes the ground. The heel lowering phase makes barefoot running an excellent Achilles tendon lengthening exercise.
Achilles Tendon Lengthening Exercises for Runners
An eccentric exercise is useful for improving muscle strength of the lower extremity in runners (Portier et al. 2009). For instance, running barefoot with a forefoot strike is an eccentric exercise that strengthens the plantar flexors and arch of the foot, new research suggests.
Where does the eccentric component of barefoot running occur?
- After initial contact is made on the forefoot, the heel is lowered down to initiate the weight-acceptance portion of early stance (shown in the video below) where the plantar flexor and the arch endure high amounts of repetitive eccentric loading (Divert el at. 2005 Lieberman et al. 2010).
This also leads to strengthening adaptation of the intrinsic foot muscles as well as the Achilles tendon, suggesting that running barefoot with a forefoot strike could assist in resolving Achilles injury in habitually shod heel strike runners.
Samarawickrame et al. 2013 also found that habitually shod runners who underwent an 8-week transition period to barefoot running had adaptive improvements in plantar flexor strength, suggesting that the eccentric nature of a forefoot strike during barefoot running is indeed invaluable to combat injuries related to foot weakness in runners.
Heeled Running Shoes Reduces Eccentric Loading
Foot weakness originates from wearing regular running shoes, partly because the cushioned heel of the shoe encourages heel striking which reduces eccentric loading that would otherwise take place shortly after touchdown in forefoot running. Without this eccentric intervention, foot weakness will likely worsen.
Evidently, you don’t necessarily need to go to a gym to develop stronger legs and feet for forefoot running. Running barefoot, including running in barefoot like shoes, is a safe, more natural way to convert a weak foot to a strong foot.
More from Run Forefoot:
Why Older Runners Need to Wear Minimalist Shoes – Find out how minimalist running shoes prevent age-related biomechanical impairments in older runners.
The Cause of ITBS – Understand how running shoes that are stiff and inflexible increases a runner’s risk of ITBS.
Expensive Shoes Doesn’t Mean More Protection – A study found that cheaper running shoes were linked to less injury rates than pricier ones.
Protecting Your Joints – Discover how the best joint protection technique for running is to avoid heel strike.
Born to Run…Forefoot? Here I talk about why humans are anatomically suited for forefoot running, and not heel strike running.
Are Heel Strikers Slower? Here I uncover the 2 main reasons that may slow a heel striker down.
The Neuroscience of Running….Barefoot – An overview of how barefoot running boosts motor coordination patterns in the brain, helping you run with better mechanics.
Shoes for Forefoot Strikers – Read about the barefoot-inspired running shoes that help avoid heel strike.
Divert, C. et al. (2005). Int J Sports Med 26, 593–598
Lieberman, D.E. et al. (2010). Nature, 463, 531–535.
Potier, T.G. et al. (2009). Eur J Appl Physiol 105, 939–944.
Samarawickrame SD., Hashish R., Gaur K and Salem G. Adaptation in plantar-flexor performance and length-tension relationship following transition from shod to barefoot 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.