Calf Pain While Running Forefoot

When I first started forefoot running, especially in super thin minimalist running shoes, my calves were blow-torched after! I could barely walk. I thought it was a problem with my running form, but I soon learned that it’s normal to get gastrocnemius sprain from forefoot running. The pain is just a form of adaptation to forefoot running.

Calf Pain While Running Forefoot
In the early stages of learning forefoot running, sore, stiff calves is common and there’s good reason for it. In a forefoot strike landing, the calves natural role is to help reinforce ankle stability after the forefoot strike’s the ground, which also eases mechanical burden on the knees. The pain could possibly be related to the calf muscle adapting to a new running condition and will subside as soon as the calves fully adapt!

In most cases, sore calves after forefoot running is due to the muscle activation mechanisms of the calf musculature.

Forefoot running activates the calf muscles longer than heel strike running. This is normal solely because the calf muscles have a more dominant role in forefoot running than in heel strike running.

For instance, a study by Ahn et al., (2014) found that forefoot runners activated their calf muscles on average, 9.7% of the gait cycle longer than the heel strike runners.

Moreover, habitual forefoot strikers activated their lateral gastrocnemius muscle 6.3% – 14.3% of the gat cycle longer than habitual heel strikers at slow, moderate, and fast running speeds.

Similarly, habitually shod heel strikers who ran barefoot and adopted a forefoot strike also activated their calf muscles longer than when shod-heel striking.

For those new to forefoot running and experience calf pain, no need to worry as this is a sign of adaptation to a new running condition and is why forefoot running may also seem like more work at first.

During the learning phase of forefoot running there may be an increase in energetic cost because the calves have not yet adapted to the longer activation mechanism. For some, this is why forefoot running feels tiring, especially for runners transitioning away from heel striking.

Also, avoid stretching sore calves as the standard responses to stretching of the calf musculature are micro-tearing and impaired muscle activation. Every time you stretch, you will be sure to develop a new problem that is relentless.

Only resting is exactly what is needed to ease your sore calves.

More From Run Forefoot:

Ahn et al. muscle activity and kinematics of forefoot and rearfoot strike runners. J Sport Health Sci, 2014; 3:102-112.

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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