How to Strengthen the Forefoot for Forefoot Running?

Most of us have weak feet. This may be a problem to a forefoot running beginner because the soft tissues and bony structures of the forefoot may be at a slight risk of overuse injury. Wearing cushioned, stiff running shoes is going to be minimal help for your forefoot strength because your foot muscles are not going to be engaged as much as they would be if you were to wear a minimalist running shoe.

So, to strengthen the forefoot,  you need to dive into barefoot running. But, if you hate the thought of going barefoot and feel that it’s not a sustainable plan, what I want you to do is find a running shoe that feels barefoot, shown below.
Strengthen the Forefoot

How to Strengthen the Forefoot for Forefoot Running?

Foot weakness is a major challenge in runners thanks to the conventional running shoe. The high degree of stiffness of the restricts the range of motion of the foot and reduces muscle activation and contractions in the long and short toe flexor muscles. Over time, toe flexor muscle weakness may cause deformation of the foot.

So, how to strengthen the forefoot for forefoot running?
that closely approximates being barefoot.

  • Bruggeman et al. (2005) concluded that wearing minimalist shoes increased mechanical stimuli on the foot which improved foot function and morphological adaptation, meaning the foot became anatomically stronger.

Wearing minimalist running shoes during strength training protocols also dramatically improves foot strength.

  • Goldmann et al. (2013) found that minimalist running shoes worn during high intensity workouts such as jump-rope and running upstairs/downstairs, resulted in a 13-20% increase in foot strength, particularly in the toe flexor muscles, after 3 weeks.

The researchers found that the initial strengthening occurred at the neuromuscular level where active motor units for intramuscular coordination increased which enhanced firing frequencies.

Such improvements may also enhance how the neuromuscular system interacts economically and efficiently during forefoot running.

How to Strengthen Your Forefoot for Forefoot RunningLikewise, the athletic superiority of Ethiopian distance runners, most of which ran barefoot, is thought to be the result of specific neuromuscular interactions of the foot-ankle complex as well as the lower leg musculature.

Such an assessment includes the relationship of increased mechanical stimuli at the foot via barefoot conditions contributes to the high mechanical efficiency of Ethiopian distance runners.

Improved foot strength also comes in handy under fatigued conditions.

  • Wearing minimalist running shoes religiously strengthens the plantar musculature thereby lowering strain on the metatarsals and in turn, reduces the risk of fracture during long distance forefoot running.

The Take Home Message

Wearing minimalist running shoes as much as possible will not only further refine your forefoot running technique, but enables the foot to be more injury resistant.

Minimalist running shoes that simulate barefoot conditions are invaluable to improving biomechanics. Unlike the conventional running shoe, minimalist running shoes are highly flexible which allows adequate muscular loading to reduce mechanical stress on the forefoot.

More From Run Forefoot:

How to Run Forefoot

How to Fuel Naturally for Running

Running Shoes for Midfoot Strike Runners

What is a Forefoot Running Shoe


Arndt et al., 2002. Effects of fatigue and load variation on metatarsal deformation measured in vivo during barefoot walking. J Biomech, 35 (5), 621–628.

Bruggemann, G.P., et al., 2005. Effect of increased mechanical stimuli on foot muscles functional capacity. Paper presented at the International Society of Biomechanics,
XXth Congress, 2005 Cleveland, Ohio.

Goldman, JP., Potthast, W and Bruggemann, GP. 2013. Athletic training on minimal footwear strengthens toe flexor muscles. Footwear Sci, 5(1), 19-25.

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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