Running Ground Contact Time and Performance

It would make sense that short running ground contact time of the foot with the ground would lead to less force production, and possibly better running economy. However, a new study suggests that ground contact time during running isn’t the best predictor of running economy.

Running Ground Contact Time

Running Ground Contact Time and Performance

Di Michele and Ferni (2014) found that longer ground contact duration resulted in less oxygen consumption in both heel strike and non-heel strike runners. However, at a certain point, non-heel strike runners became more economical.

  • Because longer ground contact time was associated with less oxygen consumption, the researchers concluded that for better running economy, a non-heel strike landing should be used while trying to simultaneously contact the ground as much as possible.

Has long ground contact time been incorrectly misdiagnosed as a contributing factor for poor running economy?

  • Williams and Cavanagh (1987) actually found that more economical runners had longer ground contact time. Other work found evidence to the contrary.

So, is ground contact time a good, reliable predictor of running economy?

As mentioned earlier, the current study found that a heel strike and non-heel strike landing pattern had similar ground contact times, but at a certain point, non-heel strike running was more efficient suggesting that long ground contact time is economical only if a non-heel strike landing is used.

But, isn’t a non-heel strike landing linked to less ground contact time? Not according to the current study which argued that long ground contact time is influenced by factors other than foot strike, such as angular velocity of plantarflexion.

So what made the non-heel strike runners more economical despite having similar ground contact time to the heel strikers?

The researchers reasoned that most non-heel strike landings (i.e. a forefoot strike), allows higher elastic energy storage in the Achilles and the arch of the foot compared to a heel strike landing.

From this, the researchers eluded that long ground contact time might not be detrimental to performance only if a forefoot strike landing is used because forefoot running mechanically provides a better capability of storing and reusing elastic energy compared to heel strike running.

More From Run Forefoot:

Heel Strike vs Forefoot Strike

How to Get Stronger Plantar Flexors

Best Energy Supplements for Runners

Getting Rid of Shin Splints

Examples of Proper Footwear


Di Michele R and Merni F. The concurrent effects of strike pattern and ground-contact time on running economy. J Sci Med Sport, 2014; 17, 414-18.

Williams KR and Cavanagh PR. Relationship between distance running mechanics, running economy and performance. J Appl Physiol, 1987; 63(3):1236-1245.

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!

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