Is Forefoot Running Faster than Heel Strike Running?

Forefoot running not only takes the lead as being the safest way to run, it’s also the fastest, regardless of running distance. This means that whether sprinting or running a marathon, you will always be more economical, with a faster, more sustainable turn-over with forefoot running than heel strike running. Here’s why:

Is Forefoot Running Faster? YES!
Forefoot running directly improves your entire running form, even improving upper body posture, which was collectively found to improve the natural abilities of arch and Achilles to save more energy than heel strike running.

When you land with a forefoot strike, which is actually a much flatter placement of the foot at landing (shown above), results in less muscle energy and more passive energy in the form of elastic energy in the Achilles and the arch of the foot. More specifically, the more you can access elastic energy in these spring-like structures, the better the running economy because there’s less muscle responses to contract and move the body forward.

What’s more, so much of the benefits of forefoot running comes from its ability to instantly mobilize a better positioned shin, knee and upper body posture angle. This is because landing on your forefoot automatically enables your knee-joint to bend and softly flex at landing, which directly enables the foot to land closer to your upper body, while enabling your upper body to tilt slightly forward, shown below:

Is Forefoot Running Better for Your Feet? YES!
The big reason forefoot running is safer and faster is by minimizing damaging impacts along with the accompanying costly muscle contractions and demands, while maximizing elastic energy storage and release in the Achilles and the arch of the foot. This leads to a net-reduction in mechanical work as compared with heel strike running.

The hallmarks of a forefoot strike includes advancing your mechanics in critical ways that prevents the kind of impact that virtually causes most injury, and drains energy. This is because, as mentioned above, forefoot running makes more functional use of your body’s mass by keeping your entire biomechanics in a safer range, especially encouraging the entire body to fall forward due to the force of gravity. In this way, there’s significantly less demands from the muscles because the forward lean, engaged by the forefoot strike, allows gravity to pull the body down which automatically shifts the center of mass forward, which in turn, cuts down on the time spent braking with the ground and affords faster, more efficient accelerations tied to low impact.

In contrast, landing with a heel strike when running disrupts these key mechanical alignments that actually work against the force of gravity. Here’s why: 

Why is Heel Striking Bad When Running?
Because it pushes your torso too far back, while the over-stride causes the body to abruptly grind to a crashing halt with the leg, heel strike running can be thought of as ‘running with the brakes on’, which contributes to poor energy economy and injury.

Thorlos Experia Socks. Crafted for premium comfort and support while running.
The trouble with the above scenario is the farther back you land on your heel, the more the knee-joint unbends and stiffens, the more this causes the foot to over-reach, landing too far ahead of the torso, resulting in an over-stride. This over-stride also pushes your torso, which is your center mass in running, far behind initial foot strike position. By and large, this landing arrangement counters gravity too much, while the over-stride always produces significant increases in brake loading, meaning the longer your over-stride, the longer in duration the body comes to a crashing halt with the ground. How does all of this waste energy?

In heel strike running, the knee along with the body’s muscles are used too much to help carry the mass of the body through the long over-stride and onward. This dramatically increases muscle force generation as well as muscular strain and fatigue since these movements oppose the force of gravity. This also requires more propulsive muscle force to launch the body forward as well.

Another economic challenge of heel strike running is the foot posture at landing puts the Achilles and the arch in a difficult position, making these structures an ineffectual spring because for one, the Achilles tendon is hyper-stretched at landing, while enduring the highest loads of impact out of any other running style. In addition, landing behind the arch was found to be not nearly as effective in allowing the arch to act as an energy-saving spring vs landing ahead of the arch, as in a forefoot strike, shown below: 

Is Forefoot Running Faster?
Landing ahead of the arch (forefoot strike, shown above left) was proven to do a better job at allowing the arch to store more elastic energy, which helps the foot spring up easier with less muscle effort.  Landing behind the arch (heel strike, shown above right) causes the arch to work less effective as an energy-saving spring. The loss of spring-energy at the arch, and the Achilles, is one of the reasons the muscles do most of the work in heel strike running.

The Take Home Message

Good, sustainable running economy partly depends on how well your arch and Achilles tendon act as energy-saving springs, however heel strike running takes away these primary energy-saving sources. To make up the difference, the muscles perform most of the work, which requires more energy. At the same time, the excessive brake force complicates the matter by loading more compressive waves through the shin and knee. The full consequences are ongoing injury and poor performance. 

Protection from impact, not with increased underfoot cushioning, but with changing your heel strike to a forefoot strike provides its own set of natural protections that are responsible for helping improve the odds of avoiding injury and even severe, long bone injuries.

It’s even better that the mechanical contributions of forefoot running does a better job at allowing the arch and Achilles to function as springs, which is what they are. Such improvement means that forefoot running engages the mechanics that perfectly matches the function of the elastic structures of the lower leg, which strongly implies that the human body was more configured for forefoot running, not heel strike running.

Need more convincing that forefoot running is safer and faster than heel strike running? Here are all the evidence-based reasons heel strike running will not help you avoid injury, no matter how thickly cushioned your running shoes are.

TerraFlex Trail Running and Hiking Shoe

If you enjoyed this, you’ll love my Youtube channel, here, where I show in clear detail why forefoot running works!


Chabay, RW and Sherwood, BA.  Matter and Interactions 3rd Edition. John Wiley & Sons Inc.

Hasegawa, H., Yamauchi, T., & Kraemer, W. J. Foot strike patterns of runners at the 15-km point during an elite-level half marathon. J of Strength and Cond Res, 2007; 21: 888 – 893.

Kubo et al. Relationship between Achilles tendon properties and foot strike patterns in long-distance runners. J Sports Sci, 2014; 3, 1-5.

Seller et al., 2010. Evolutionary robotic approaches in primate gait analysis. Intern Journ Primat, 31(2): 321 – 338.

Larson et al.Foot strike patterns of recreational and sub-elite runners in a long-distance road
race. J of Sports Sci, 2011 29, 1665 – 1673.

Black Friday at!

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!