The current change in thinking is that researchers speculate that if your feet spend less time on the ground during running via a shorter ground contact time duration, you may have more leverage in terms of avoiding foot pain since there will be less time for force production to over-accumulate in the foot during running.
- With a shorter ground contact time duration of the feet during running, the feet spend more time in the air and less time physically and mechanically engaged with the ground.
In contrast, a longer foot ground contact time duration during running could amplify the negative effects of added force accumulation or impact shock consolidation of having the foot interact longer with the ground, which therefore, may set the parameter for potential foot soreness or injury.
How to Run with Less Impact On Your Feet
There are many causes of achy feet from running. Foot aching when running can be triggered by many things, such as poor foot strength due to cushioned athletic footwear and inadequate biomechanics, such as heel striking.
Landing with a forefoot strike, which naturally reduces ground-contact time, is a better way at reducing painful feet because it decreases loads on the plantar tissue.
What is more, a study by Wellenkotter et al. 2014 investigated the mechanical aspects related to forefoot running that may protect the feet from over-loading. One aspect being cadence in that forefoot running naturally increases cadence as compared to heel strike running
In their study, the researchers looked at the effects of cadence manipulation on in-shoe plantar loading at the heel and the metatarsal heads during running at a constant speed. They also examined the effects of increasing and decreasing cadence by 5% on foot-ground contact time, peak force and pressure and pressure and force time integral. The researchers used a metronome as an auditory cue to increase and decrease cadence in runners.
The researchers found that increasing cadence by 5% from the preferred cadence reduced total foot contact time, peak force and pressure on the foot, and heel force. Interestingly, medial metatarsal force and pressure time integral was lower when cadence was higher, suggesting that increasing your cadence during forefoot running may reduce total foot loading and foot pain. How exactly does a higher cadence allow less loading on the foot?
Increased cadence during forefoot running reduces stressful conditions on the foot by reducing foot inclination (less dorsiflexion) at touchdown and reducing the distance between the torso (center mass) and initial footfall position (Heiderscheit et al. 2011), meaning that the foot is more likely to land under the hips when cadence is higher whereby impact intensity on the foot is proportional to the horizontal distance between footfall position and the center mass –as the foot lands closer to the body, the less impact that is produced.
There is also less vertical excursion (less upward movement) of the center of mass when cadence is higher, which reduces the vertical ground reaction force magnitude ( Dallam et al. 2005) .
For comparison, if you look at the stride of professional distance runners, Galen Rupp and Tirunesh Dibaba, you will see that they often take quicker steps than most of their competitors. Of course, there is an ocean of other reasons as to why Rupp and Dibaba do so well in distance running, but you can’t ignore the fact that their (Rupp and Dibaba) higher step rate (step frequency) and less ground contact time works for them and a shorter ground contact time duration of the feet is potentially a course of action that is strategic, for performance and injury prevention, for these runners.
To reduce total loading over the foot and possibly limit and reduce your potential of sustaining aching feet and bony foot injuries, it may be worth your while to install a higher cadence, or step rate during running to ramp up your efforts to run with less impact on the feet.
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Dallam G M , Wilber R L , Jadelis K , Fletcher G , Romanov N . Eﬀect of a global alteration of running technique on kinematics and economy . J Sports Sci 2005 ; 23 : 757 – 764
Heiderscheit B C , Chumanov E S , Michalski M P , Wille C M , Ryan M B . Eﬀects of step rate manipulation on joint mechanics during running . Med Sci Sports Exerc 2011 ; 43 : 296 – 302
Wellenkotter et al. The effect of running cadence manipulation on plantar loading in healthy runners. Orthoped Biomech, 2014, 35, 779-784.
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.