Avoid shin splints when forefoot running starts by going back to basics and ‘recalibrating’ your leg alignment. Poor leg alignment results in a narrow step-width running pattern which can be easily corrected by focusing on increasing the distance (width) between your legs while running.
How to Avoid Shin Splints When Forefoot Running
Begin by standing with your feet at a comfortable width apart from each other. Envision standing on the rails of a narrow set of train tracks (shown left) -this will help you retain straighter leg alignment and a wider step-width while you run.
Next, jog on the spot with a side-to-side motion, lightly hoping back and forth from one foot to the other making sure to land on your forefoot and not high up on the toes.
Bend your knees slightly, relax your ankles to develop a sense of weightlessness and springiness in your legs. Next, slowly shift your body weight forward to begin running.
- don’t think about leaning forward from the ankle to move forward, and avoid propelling the body with your toes. Think of shifting your body weight as a whole in the forward direction
Next, shift your focus on your landing, maintaining the same width-distance between both feet as you had when you were standing still, making sure to land each foot on its respective rail on the track.
- this encourages that side-to-side motion of your forefoot strike I mentioned earlier which enables the foot to land closer to the center of mass and reduces over-striding, ground reaction forces, and tibial compression
Keep Your Legs and Feet Alignment Straight and Don’t Over-Stride
The two main ingredients of this drill that improves symptoms of shin splints is the side- to-side motion in your gait coupled with keeping your leg alignment straight while you run. How do these actions alleviate shin pain?
Pretending to land each foot on its respective rail on a track helps maintain lower leg alignment while running:
- straighter leg alignment improves lower leg kinematics by allowing each joint segment of the leg to evenly distribute and attenuate forces and motions to other neighboring joints in a more predictable pattern
In the case of shin splints, a narrow step-width, or a crossover running gait is a result of poor leg alignment (i.e. knee knocking when running) and is often due to hip and abductor weakness, which may cause inadequate force distribution, or unfavorable movement paths of the lower leg.
- peak joint reaction forces may be greater in runners with a ‘crooked’ leg alignment when running (shown below) whereby greater peak joint reaction forces are associated with greater peak tensile muscle forces which are predictors of greater tibial compression
Landing with a more side-to-side motion on your feet instead of swinging the leg out in front of the body when running cuts down on the ground reaction forces implicated in tibial fractures and helps in avoiding shin splints:
- a study by Sasimontonkul and colleagues examined the effects of contact forces on the tibia bone in heel strike runners with shin splints, and found that over-striding increased vertical ground reaction forces which in turn, increased shear loading that was compressive on the tibia
The trick to avoiding shin splints begins with intensive monitoring of your leg mechanics while running which may also have a big incentive on neuro-motor and muscular control to ensure your shin splints never come back.
More From Run Forefoot:
- Best Barefoot Running Shoes
- Books on Barefoot Running Biomechanics
- What a Forefoot Strike Looks Like
- Injuries Caused by Heel Strike Running
Buton et al., The role of limb torque, muscle action and proprioception during closed kinetic chain rehabilitation of the lower extremity. J Athel Train, 1993; 28(1):10-11.
Loudon, JK and Reiman, MP. Lower extremity kinematics in running athletes with and without a history of medial shin pain. Int J Sports Phys Ther, 2012; 7(4):356-364.
Sasimontonkul, S., Bay, BK and Pavol, MJ. Bone contact forces on the distal tibia during the stance phase of running. J biomech, 2007; 40(15):3503-9.
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.