Why is Running On Your Forefoot Better for Long Distances?

Because of its growing scientific-backing, forefoot running sustains significantly safer, and more economical than heel strike running across all distances, even the marathon as forefoot runners have broken more world records by a significantly larger multiple. But, what is it about forefoot running that makes it the best path for all runners?  

Why is Running On Your Forefoot Better for Long Distances?
Forefoot running makes it easier to handle longer, faster, harder miles because all-around impact levels are prevented from rising to pain-inducing levels due to a greater smoothness in foot-placement at landing vs heel striking when running. 

Several studies (references below article) have shown that forefoot running engages better leg swing control and foot-step stability which breaks the flow of high impact, while giving you an efficient, acceleration that is easier to sustain.

More specifically, the reductions in net forces are induced by a smoother placement of the forefoot on the ground at landing, whereas heel striking when running was found to produce more movement rigidity, which damages multiple areas of the body, while raising muscle energy costs.

A landmark study in the journal, Nature, provides important evidence on this in that when the researchers compared the bio-mechanical parameters of forefoot running vs heel strike running, they found that the movement patterns of the foot in a forefoot strike landing allowed for a more smooth, glide-like stride than a heel strike.

How exactly does a forefoot strike allow for a smoother ride than a heel strike?

Below, shows the sequence of motions the foot makes with the ground in a forefoot strike that accounts for big reductions in the time spent braking  (deceleration), and allows the entire foot to roll better with the ground. At the same time, the arch works better at loading more energy-saving elastic power, which makes your stride more spring-enable, allowing the foot to spring up with minimal muscle efforts.

Why is Running On Your Forefoot Better for Long Distances?
Above, shows the forefoot strike of Tirunesh Dibaba. (A)-(C), shows the foot in a relaxed position, falling to the ground. (D) shows initial contact of the foot in a forefoot strike on the outer-side of the forefoot, under the 5th to 4th metatarsal head, (E) shows the rest of the foot beginning to flatten to the ground. (F) shows the entire foot, including the heel, in contact with the ground during stance. This movement pattern of the foot was found to work best at reducing braking and rapid impact at each step than heel strike running, shown below:
Is Heel Strike Running Faster? No!
Above, shows how the foot interfaces with the ground in a heel strike landing, which is proven to be a damaging and inefficient path of the foot because it’s responsible for producing a jarring force and extreme motions of the heel, which worsens as more and more heel strike steps are taken.

At landing, after the heel has pounded into the ground, the foot rolls heel-to-toe which causes the foot to make a longer line of travel, allowing more chance of the foot to alter from its neutral line, which it does, and is pushed into extreme positions (also known as foot over-pronation). In doing so, there’s a much higher exposure to an array of surface forces, such as friction and rotational stress, as well as more bending and twisting strain is transferred up the leg into the knee. The net effect of this is a choppy, slow-churning movement pattern of the foot that also makes inefficient use of the foot’s arch! (More on that here!)

Case in point, a pioneering study in the Journal of Biomechanics revealed that heel strike running caused foot strike position to land too far ahead of the body. This resulted in a rapid collision force that caused the body to stop abruptly for too long, along with the point of impact on the foot.

Heel Strike Impact Remains Unchanged In Soft or Hard Running Shoes
In running, the farther back you land on your heel, the more this causes the knee-joint to unbend and fully straighten out. In consequence, this causes the leg to swing out too far ahead of the body’s center mass (i.e. hips). As a result, a rapid deceleration force measured to be equivalent to 3x’s the mass of your body colliding with the leg, arises because of the over-stride angle created by the coupling of landing-heel first and full knee extensibility. 

Whats worse, heel strike running engages larger, lunge-like steps that also reduces stride smoothness, while causing the collisional force from the rapid deceleration to produce more jolting force on the body!

By these measures, heel strike runners also tend to look less smooth and more choppy than forefoot runners because the mechanical components of heel striking have the highest prevalence of physical stressors and greater loading on the joint, namely the knee-joint. 

Forefoot running naturally removes the mechanical clashes of heel strike running by allowing the body to spend less time decelerating and more time seamlessly gliding forward, because that is how forefoot runners appear — glide-like, and effortless, since there’s far less impact for the body to overcome.

Still need more convincing that forefoot running is better than heel strike running? Here are all the evidence-backed reasons forefoot running is the safest, most efficient way to run and why heel strike running is most damaging!

If you’ve enjoyed my blog post, you’ll love my YouTube channel, here, where I show why forefoot running works!


Chi, K and Schmitt, D. Mechanical energy and effective foot mass during impact loading of walking and running. J Biomech (2005); (7):1387-95.

Friesenbichler, B., Stirling, LM., Federolf. P. and Nigg, BM. Tissue vibration in prolonged running. J Biomech (2011) 4;44(1):116-20.

Jungers, WL. (2010). Biomechanics: Barefoot strikes back. Nature, 463:433-34.

Lieberman et al. Foot strike patterns and collision forces in habitually barefoot versus shod runners. Nature (2009); 463, 531-535

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

P.S. Don't forget to check out the Run Forefoot Facebook Page, it's a terrific place to ask questions about forefoot running, barefoot running and injury. I'm always happy to help!