What is Forefoot Running

What is forefoot running and how does it differ from toe running? Initially, I thought forefoot running involved landing on the balls of the foot, which is correct. But, what I did not know was that my heel was supposed to drop down to the ground after my forefoot had contacted the ground.

I would also like to point out that most studies refer to forefoot running as ‘toe-heel’ running.

Personally, I feel that using forefoot running and ‘toe-heel’ running interchangeably may confuse forefoot running learners as the initial contact area of the foot in a forefoot strike is actually under the toes (the balls), not on the toes.

Thus, for politically correctness, forefoot running can be thought of as ‘ball-heel’ running, as fluky as it sounds.

In summary, in a forefoot strike, the first part of the foot to contact the ground is the balls of the foot, then the heel drops lightly to the ground.

So, who runs on their forefoot?  Sprinters run forefoot and so do the best distance runners in the world.

What is Forefoot Running
In forefoot running, foot strike does not occur high up on the balls, or toes of the foot. Rather, the foot is relaxed as it falls to the ground where initial contact is made on the balls of the foot, then the rest of the foot is lowered to the ground.

What is Forefoot Running

What are the benefits to forefoot striking?

  • our ancestors ran long distances barefoot with a forefoot strike, not a heel strike
  • a forefoot strike provides impact reduction, reducing over-use injury
  • forefoot striking maintains and improves bone tissue health
  • forefoot strike running over short, or long distances, saves energy compared to heel strike running

Humans May Have Evolved as Forefoot Runners

Forefoot running may have been around for millions of years and the human anatomy may be better suited to support a forefoot strike over a heel strike.  It is a known fact that our ancestors ran barefoot over long distances in search of food.

Evolutionary biologists believe in order to safely run barefoot over long distances, our ancestors most likely ran on their forefoot since forefoot striking is less forceful on the heel pad and the musculoskeletal system than heel striking.  However, this is just a theory, but it is a tough one to argue against.

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?

If humans evolved as distance runners and relied on running to essentially survive, than running should be thought of as a natural movement, like walking.

And, lets assume humans evolved as forefoot distance runners, then forefoot running should feel natural and effortless, right? 

Tirunesh Dibaba, Mo Farah, Galen Rupp, Molly Huddle are forefoot strikers and look pretty smooth and ‘natural’ flowing when they run.

Maybe forefoot running is how we should all be running?
But, maybe not.

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.  But, that’s just me.

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


  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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