What is Forefoot Running

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 is Forefoot Running
In forefoot running, initial ground-contact on the foot does not occur high up on the toes, rather initial ground-contact is made on the balls of the foot, then the rest of the foot lowers down to the ground where the heel is the last part of the foot to connect with the ground.

What are the benefits to forefoot running vs heel strike running?

  • Less Overall Impact. Forefoot running is on record for not producing a muscle and bone-harming peak impact spike  that’s uniquely produced in 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

Why 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 evolutionary hardwired not just for running barefoot, but our ancestors needed to favor biomechanics that wouldn’t get them injured when running barefoot. It’s because of the significant reductions in net impact forces on the musculoskeletal system that evolution may have favored the forefoot strike over a 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 of that most habitual barefoot runners reflexively favor a forefoot strike, not a heel strike.

Also, a recent study (link below) found that habitual barefoot runners landed on their forefoot, not their heel, which supports the assumption that humans may have evolved as forefoot strikers.  And, Ethiopian elite runners ran barefoot until adolescence and are mostly forefoot strikers.

Ethiopian runners appear more relaxed, smooth, and light on their feet compared to most recreational runners. Could running barefoot in their earlier years allow many Ethiopian runners to have exceptional, almost flawless biomechanics?

From these studies, you could affirm the idea that forefoot striking may perhaps be the preferred foot strike in humans, and I am beginning to think so.

Is There a Preferred Foot Strike For Human Running?

Maybe forefoot running is how we should all be running?

According to some runners “we are ALL built differently and forefoot running may not work for everyone”.  Good point, however, simple explanations like this are often associated with uncertainty and an illusory belief. That answer is too general for me, I need something more fundamental.

I felt like I was always trying too hard when running as a heel striker.  I shuffled, I was stiff, my stride was rigid.  In retrospect, heel striking certainly did not feel  ‘natural’ to me.

On that note,  it should not be grossly underestimated that heel striking is strenuous and may place great physiological and mechanical stress on the body, which may increase the risk of injury.

More From Run Forefoot:

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

3 Comments

  1. Hi,
    I have been running for clubs since i was in my late teens. i was very frequently out with injuries, with knees and even hip operation being required before i was 25.

    I came across an article while googling some years ago about forefoot and ‘forced’ myself to come off my heels. initially my calf muscles were in such pain, whereby i couldnt even finish a 10k on my toes as my calves were giving up.
    now however, i am quite happily knocking out 40miles + every week, and havent had a single running related injury in close to 10 years!

    i wear lightweight, scantly padding trainers all the time. as my heels dont touch the floor at all now (aside from a light kiss between landing and push off). the padding isnt required.
    i also tried running barefoot for the first time this year – immiedate success, as i ran exactly as i do in my trainers. my only issue was the friction burns on my soft sheltered skin. : )

    i cant recommend it enough.

    i find many articles compare heel striking with barefoot running, and talking about ‘natural running’, there is middle ground, and its natural running, with a sole.

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