Is Toe Strike Running Bad?

Toe strike running is defined as landing high up on the balls of the foot, or on the toes, without allowing the entire foot to flatten on the ground during the stance phase of running. That is, the heel never makes contact with the ground in toe running.

Is Toe Strike Running Bad?

A study by Nunn et al. reported that toe running produced and increased early plantar flexor moments and was associated with greater ankle stiffness compared to a forefoot strike, midfoot strike, and heel strike landing pattern, suggesting that the plantar flexors may exhaust at a faster rate in toe running.

Another problem is that the absence of heel contact in toe running increases the moment arm about the ankle thereby contributing to greater ankle plantar-flexion moments.

  • greater ankle plantar-flexion moments require greater eccentric muscular control to stabilize the position of the ankle during stance

Thus, overloading is greater on the plantar flexors and Achilles tendon in toe running compared with other foot strike patterns.

In the same study, toe running increased plantar pressure on the M1 and M2 region of the forefoot, a region considered to be more vulnerable to metatarsal stress fractures than the M3-M5 regions of the forefoot

Forefoot Running Not to Be Confused with Toe-Running

It is a misconception to equate forefoot running with toe running as the two foot strike patterns differ mechanically and kinematically.

In forefoot strike running, contact is not made high up on the balls of the foot, but rather on the lateral-medial region of the forefoot before the heel is lowered down.

Toe Strike Running
Above (top), shows a toe running landing pattern whereby the angle of which the heel is elevated off the ground is significantly greater than the heel elevation relative to the ground in a forefoot strike landing pattern, above (bottom).

Unfortunately, not all forefoot strike landings are created equal. Some forefoot strike learners, especially those who were heel strikers, often make the mistake of landing higher up on the balls of the forefoot, or the toes which may account for the marked increase in Achilles injury in barefoot runners who learned forefoot running independently, without proper instruction.

Therefore, the typical caution when learning forefoot running is to avoid toe running, and instead, relax the foot-ankle complex and aim for a more flatter foot placement.

More From Run Forefoot:

Best trail running shoes for forefoot strike runners.

Wearing cushioned running shoes at an early age leads to weaker feet in adulthood.

Debunking common myths on running-related ITBS.

Most of Achilles tendon pain is due to poor running technique.

References:

Nunns et al. (2013). Biomechanical Characteristics of Barefoot Foot Strike Modalities.

Samaan et al. (2014).  Reduction in Ground Reaction Force Variables with Instructed Barefoot Running.

Lieberman et al.  (2010). Foot Strike Patterns and Collision Forces in Habitually Barefoot Versus Shod Runners.

Run forefoot, because you are faster than you think!

Bretta Riches

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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