What is forefoot running and how it may be better for injury prevention as compared with heel strike running?
First off, I thought forefoot running meant toe running, meaning that initial ground-contact is made on the tippy-toes without letting the heel drop down to the ground. Toe running is not forefoot running. To be very clear, the textbook definition of a proper forefoot strike landing is initial ground-contact is made lower on the front of the foot, on the balls of the foot, ahead of the arch, then the heel drops down to the ground.
What are the benefits to forefoot running vs heel strike running?
- Less Overall Impact. When you land on your forefoot when you run, it keeps other aspects of your mechanics within a safe range which results in a reduction in net impact loads across the muscles, tendons and bones as compared with heel strike running. Learn more here!
- Humans May Be Wired for Forefoot Running. Because of the less impact factor, experts are beginning to agree that our ancestors must have preferred a forefoot strike, not a heel strike, when running long distance barefoot. More on this below…
- Forefoot Running May Be More Economical. Landing with a forefoot strike when running may increase the type of energy in the elastic structures of the lower leg (Achilles tendon and foot’s arch) to help support sustaining faster running velocities over long distances with greater ease as compared with heel strike running.
- Forefoot Running Prevent IT Band Syndrome. Landing with a forefoot strike when running may hold great power over improving other aspects of your leg swing mechanics that may not only help keep impact low, but may also reduce tensile stress and bending strain on the IT band. Learn more here about the role forefoot running may play in helping prevent IT band syndrome as compared with heel strike running.
- Forefoot Running Improves Your Leg Swing Mechanics. When you run with the forefoot strike, it automatically helps you assemble 3 key functional, less force-intensive mechanical outputs that makes running faster and longer distances significantly less distressing on the shins, knees and hips, potentially making you less prone to mechanical overload and injury. Watch my full video on this here!
- Less Abnormal Foot Motions. When you land with a forefoot strike when you run, the foot may operate from a safer pronation pattern (pronation: side-to-side foot motions) which may be an important asset in dramatically reducing bending strain and excessive abnormal loading on multiple sites on the leg, namely the Achilles tendon and knee, making running overall less stressful on the body. Here’s my full video on this!
- Forefoot Running May Prevent Chronic Exertional Compartment Syndrome (CECS). CECS involves intense throbbing lower leg cramps that get worse with running but stops when running is stopped whereby a lot of hard evidence shows the condition is most prevalent in heel strike runners. The good news is, switching from a heel strike running style to a forefoot strike running style has proven to be enough to bring full resolve of the painful, nagging lower leg condition. Here’s my full video on this!
- Forefoot Running May be Safer for Overweight Runners. Because of the stark reductions in net impact forces, forefoot running may be more safe on the joints, muscles and bones of any runner, but especially heavier runners. The is why forefoot running may be key in making a big difference in putting a heavier runner on safer ground towards making big weight loss gains. My full video on this here!
- Forefoot Running May Be Easier on the Hips. Just by landing with a forefoot strike when running may automatically set in constant motion other mechanical outputs that may naturally ease mechanical stress and impact off the hips. I explain more here in my video!
Humans May Have Evolved as Forefoot Runners
One popular theory is humans evolved as a barefoot running species, running long distances after food for survival. It would then follow that humans may be evolutionarily hardwired not just for running barefoot, but our ancestors needed to favor biomechanics that wouldn’t get them injured when running barefoot.
It’s perhaps because of the significant reductions in net impact forces on the musculoskeletal system that evolution may have favored the forefoot strike over the heel strike to ensure that our barefoot running ancestors stayed injury-free. Think about it: if they got injured from running, then they couldn’t run therefore couldn’t eat and would die out quickly. This is why our ancestors may have adopted a forefoot strike landing for the benefit of impact protection when running barefoot.
Even more convincing, this assessment fits into a continuum of complementary observations that most habitual barefoot runners reflexively favor a forefoot strike, not a heel strike. Not to mention, most elite runners from East Africa who grew up running barefoot on hard, packed dirt surfaces are more likely to be forefoot strikers or midfoot strikers, rarely heel strike runners (unless they grow up running in cushioned shoes).
If you’ve enjoyed my written content on forefoot running, you’ll LOVE my YouTube channel here where I talk more in detail about the evidence-based facts showing that forefoot running may have more injury preventive and performance advantages over heel strike 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.