Running faster with a forefoot strike increases leg spring compression, booting up performance.
How Forefoot Running Fast Saves Energy
In forefoot running, leg spring compression increases with speed, meaning the faster you run, the better your legs function passively like springs, saving you more energy.
- Similar to hopping, rebounding from a drop results in greater leg spring compression in forefoot running, and as running velocity increases, so does leg spring compression as compared with heel strike running.
In rough terms, greater leg spring compression increases stored elastic energy capacity of the lower leg during the loading phase of stance (Latash and Zatsiorsky, 1993). This is another energetic phenomena that makes forefoot running more efficient than heel strike running.
The biomechanical advantages of greater leg spring compression is that it is a safeguard against collapse of the lower leg, meanwhile energy return during the propulsive phase of forefoot running in maximized. (Arampatzis et al. 2001a,b).
Factors that Increase Leg Spring Compression in Forefoot Running
Researchers have laid out a number of mechanisms to shed light on how forefoot running increases leg spring compression. One is reduced stride length.
Naturally, a shorter stride length is facilitated by a forefoot strike whereby a shorter stride corresponds to greater leg spring compression and better running economy (McMahon and Cheng, 1990; Farley and Gonzalez, 1996; Derrick et al., 2000).
Running barefoot on natural, soft surfaces such as grass was also found to increase leg spring compression, thereby resulting in better running economy (Kerdock et al. 2015). And of course, fatigue affects leg spring compression and performance. Dutto and Smith (2002) found that both leg spring compression and running economy decreased with fatigue, suggesting that greater leg spring compression allows runners to be economical.
Apparently, when it comes to saving energy in forefoot running, you need to run faster and evidently, the most economical runners do.
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Butler et al. Lower extremity stiffness: implications for performance and injury. Clin Biomech, 2003; 18:511-17.
Farley, C.T., Blickhan, R., Saito, J., Taylor, C.R., 1991. Hopping frequency in humans: a test of how springs set stride frequency in bouncing gaits. J. Appl. Physiol. 71, 2127–2132.
Granata, K.P., Padua, D.A., Wilson, S.E., 2001. Gender diﬀerences in active musculoskeletal stiﬀness. Part II. Quantiﬁcation of leg stiﬀness during functional hopping tasks. J. Electromyogr. Kinesiol. 12, 127–135.
Latash, M.L., Zatsiorsky, V.M., 1993. Joint stiﬀness: Myth or reality? Hum. Movement Sci. 12, 653–692.
McMahon, T.A., Cheng, G.C., 1990. The mechanics of running: how does stiﬀness couple with speed? J. Biomech. 23 (Suppl 1), 65–78.
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.