I highly recommend a forefoot strike.
Running with a heel strike over the long-term is dangerous and will almost certainly lead you to injury. Until recently, there wasn’t much science to back up that claim. No study explicitly state that running on your forefoot will prevent injuries. However, Dr. Daniel Lieberman, of Harvard, has recently published studies that concluded runners:
- Are 2.41% more economical when using a forefoot strike
- Who use rearfoot striking have roughly twice the amount of injuries than those who forefoot strike
- Who are barefoot using a forefoot strike, generate smaller collision forces than shod runners who rearfoot strike
Runners who forefoot strike generally are those who run barefoot or wear barefoot style shoes. This has led forefoot striking to get generally lumped in as part of barefooting and not as a principle that stands on its own. Critics are usually criticizing barefoot running as a practice, not forefoot striking itself.
How Do You Learn to Forefoot Strike?
Forefoot striking is something you’ll need to practice, but not because it’s hard to do. It’s fairly easy to get the hang of it when you’re running. Most people can just think about it and have the motor control to make it happen. The difficult part is keeping it up once you relax and stop thinking about your form. It’s very easy to slip back into your old habits. Here’s a great way to practice your forefoot striking:
- Stand barefoot on a soft surface like carpet or grass.
- Begin jogging slowly in place. Take note of how you naturally land softly on your forefoot, followed by your heel lowering and touching the ground. Also note how you are perfectly balanced because your feet are beneath your center of gravity.
- After you get comfortable doing this for 30 seconds or so, learn forward from your ankles.
- You’ll start running, with a proper foot strike!
The more difficult part will be translating that to the road. When you’re running, focus on landing softly on the ball of your foot and then having your heel touch a split second after. While your foot is in the air, make sure your ankle is plantarflexed (toes pointing down) and after your forefoot touches, your ankle dorsiflexes (heel moves towards/to the ground). If you’re currently a heel striker, you’ll also need to pay attention to where your foot actually strikes the ground. Make sure your feet are landing as close to your center of gravity as possible. Leaning forward at the ankles will help.
Remember, the hardest part of this is maintaining your focus while your body adjusts to the new form.
Run more slowly and for a shorter distance than you normally do. Focus on your footwork, not on your speed and distance. Expect to be sore. Take extra days off if you need to. Your calf is working harder and you need to make sure you ramp up your training slowly with this new foot strike. Once you get the hang of it – strengthening your calves, and training your muscle memory – it will be a lot easier to increase your distance and speed. If you don’t have minimalist shoes, I recommend trying some. It makes the transition process easier.
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