Many forefoot running beginners complain of a strain calf muscle, which is normal because forefoot running relies mostly on the calf musculature for stabilizing the ankle joint during stance, but one aspect of the forefoot running technique that the calves don’t play a huge role in is horizontal propulsion (i.e. pushing the body forward). So, if you continue to experience calf pain from running with a forefoot strike, this may indicate that you are pushing off with your foot too aggressively.
True, the calf muscles play a role in propelling the body forward during running (Hamner et al. 2010), but in forefoot running, half of the propulsion comes from the leg and the other half comes from the forward position of the center of mass, which in turn takes much of the workload off the lower leg. But, if your back of calf pain is lingering, you may be using too much of your calf muscles for propulsion.
Strain Calf Muscle From Running with a Forefoot Strike
If you push yourself forward with your forefoot too much when forefoot running, this is a habit you need to break because pushing increases the horizontal propulsion force, and the faster you run while pushing with your feet, the more the horizontal propulsion force increases from 0.13 to 0.5 times body weight (Nilsson and Thorstensson, 1989), which increases mechanical strain on the calves.
The main goal of forefoot running is to reduce mechanical load on the leg, and thus to not only save energy, but to protect the leg from injury. So, a great way to by-pass pushing is to lean a little forward and to think of ‘peeling’ your foot from the ground –this is a little tip I got from Chi Running which has stopped me from pushing too much with my foot, and instead, use my feet for passive propulsion (shown below).
As you can see, I am ‘peeling’ my foot off the ground instead of using my foot to launch myself forward –notice how relaxed my calves are. As my foot lifts off the ground, my calves remain relaxed, and this is how your calves should be appear, too. The biomechanical methods in achieving this is not difficult, it just takes time to learn. Here are more tips on learning the proper forefoot running technique.
More From Run Forefoot:
Hamner, S.R., Seth, A., Delp, S.L., 2010. Muscle contributions to propulsion and support during running. J. Biomech. 43, 2709–2716. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jbiomech. 2010.06.025.
Nelen, G., Martens, M., Burssens, A., 1989. Surgical treatment of chronic Achilles tendinitis. Am. J. Sports Med. 17, 754–759.
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.