Forefoot running has become a real trend in recent years, largely due to the publication of a book about a certain Mexican tribe, who ran barefoot for millions of miles without even needing to stop for a drink (something like that). The running shoe industry followed suit and designed shoes to encourage forefoot running and coaches encouraged people to take shorter strides and land on the balls of the foot. The term 'heel striking' is generally greeted with a pained expression by most runners, as 'heel striking' is BAD... it's VERY BAD... or is it?
What's the theory behind forefoot running?:
1. You land on your forefoot
2. There's a gap between your heel and the floor
3. Your heel drops into the gap and by doing so, stretches the achilles tendon and calves
4. The stretch creates and stores elastic energy (very much like stretching an elastic band)
5. The 'rebound effect' from the stretch then propels you forwards (plyometrics)
6. The increase use of 'elastic energy' mean that your muscles don't have to work as hard (like adding a pair of springs to your shoes)
7. As the muscles don't have to work as hard, your economy improves
Does it work?
Yes, it does for a lot of people, but not for everyone. Here's some things to consider:
1. Forefoot running relies upon elastic energy. If you are not able to store and then generate the elastic energy, then it doesn't work so well. With age, we lose the elastic energy and we don't 'bounce'.
2. If you run with a faster cadence and shorter stride to encourage forefoot running, it will result in higher heart rate and breathing.
3. A lot of elite runners heel strike, so forefoot running can't be the only solution. What's important is how to roll. Efficient runners who land on their heels will roll effectively to the forefoot and then 'toe off'.
4. A lot of traditional running shoes feel uncomfortable if you land heel first. They feel 'clumpy' and 'slap' the ground. As a consequence, people try to run on their forefoot as it feels more natural and comfortable. The IMPORTANT question to ask is 'are you trying to run forefoot just because the shoes are designed wrong?'
5. There are several shoe companies who are specifically changing designs to allow runners to heel strike and roll naturally to the forefoot. This efficient 'rolling' of the shoe means that heel striking actually feels natural and comfortable. Rather than switching to forefoot running, is the answer simply to use shoes which allow a comfortable and smooth transition from heel to forefoot? We've seen this initially with HOKA shoes, followed by the Nike sub 2 hour shoe (which seems to be a HOKA copy). The On-Cloud shoes very much allow a smooth transition from heel to toe and the new Brooks Glycerin has been changed significantly with a much softer mid-sole and rounded heel to allow a heel to toe roll with maximum efficiency. Clearly a new trend in shoe design is upon us!
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