To most, barefoot running is something that people think will really hurt. However, a barefoot runner lands on the forefoot to modify pain since a forefoot strike landing provides more effective impact reduction than a heel strike landing. For instance, in barefoot running, the forefoot strikes the ground before the heel, which prevents heel pain by keeping heel pressures low (Daoud et al.).
Why A Barefoot Runner Avoids Heel Strike
Historically, evidence suggests that heel striking is common in shod populations because the cushioned, elevated heel of the traditional running shoe causes ankle dorsiflexion at touchdown, which sets up the foot perfectly to land directly on the heel.
More important, past studies have found that shod heel strike runners adopted a forefoot strike landing when they ran barefooot for the first time, suggesting that the traditional running shoe is to blame for causing runners to heel strike.
But what makes heel striking hurt so much when running barefoot?
Mechanically, here’s how heel striking makes barefoot running painful:
- During heel strike running, the heel lands well in front of the body at touchdown, which increases the rate of sudden deceleration. The deceleration force generates a collision force and a shock-wave that penetrates through the heel pad.
- the heel strike shock-wave has been found to cause vibration of soft tissue compartments which damages bones and ligaments during repetitive loading cycles.
Now it becomes clear that most of the pain during running can depend on foot strike, and that a forefoot strike landing is one of the best pain-modifying strategies during running.
Click here to learn more about injuries caused by running with a heel strike.
More at Run Forefoot:
What Causes Heel Strike?– Find out why most runners heel strike and why this is a big health concern.
Heel Strikers and Shin Splints – Learn why heel strike runners struggle more with shin splints than forefoot runners.
Heel Striking Diminishes Running Economy – Find out why heel strike running may limit your performance.
Forefoot Strike Prevents Runners Knee – Understand that the best weapon for preventing runners knee is how you land. Learn how forefoot running is easier on the knee-joint than heel strike running.
Proper Running Shoes – Read my reviews on the most top rated barefoot-inspired running shoes for forefoot running.
Enders et al. (2014). The effects of preferred and non-preferred running strike patterns on tissue vibration properties.
Enders et al. (2012). Analysis of damped tissue vibrations in timed-frequency space: a wavelet-based approach.
Gruber et al. (2012). Footfall patterns during barefoot running on harder and softer surfaces.
Wakeling et al. (2003). Muscle activity reduces soft-tissue resonance at heel-strike during walking.
Wakeling et al. (2002). Muscle activity damps the soft tissue resonance that occurs in response to pulsed and continuous vibrations.
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.