When you run, which part of your foot strikes the ground first? If you’re not already sure, it pays to know, as it can make a big difference in your running speed and your rate of injuries. For instance, one such running style is running on your toes or forefoot striking. Should you begin running this way?
Forefoot striking or running on your toes is renowned among runners as you’re supposed to be able to run faster. Your midfoot will absorb more of the impact of your strikes as well, which may lessen your bodily pain.
If this is the first you’ve heard of forefoot striking, you’re not going to want to miss this article. First, we’ll define forefoot running and then contrast it with midfoot and rearfoot running. Then we’ll delve into the benefits and risks of forefoot running. We’ll even have some tips to help you acclimate to running on your toes!
What Is Forefoot Running? How Is It Different Than Other Running Methods?
When a runner says they’re running on their toes, they don’t mean it literally. Running on tiptoes like some sort of ballerina would be incredibly painful and unsustainable.
Instead, what the runner is referring to is forefoot striking or forefoot running.
Going back to what we talked about in the intro, when you run, a part of your foot strikes the ground first. Depending on your running style, this might be your forefoot, which is the front of your foot. If so, then you’re a forefoot runner.
Forefoot runners are admittedly in the minority. Adults who are reading this might recall being chastised by their gym teacher in school for striking the ground first with their forefront rather than their heel. They were told this style of running is incorrect.
Yet what more of today’s runners have found is that forefoot running might be less injurious than other forms of running. We’ll talk about that more in the next section, so make sure you check that out.
If you’re not engaging in forefoot running, what are the other running styles you might be using? There are two others, midfoot and rearfoot striking. Let’s talk about both now.
Some runners prefer the midfoot strike, which is where the ball of their foot and their heel both touch the ground before any other part of their foot does. Some experts say that midfoot running is the best way for runners to reduce shock absorption and lower their rate of injury.
To do a midfoot strike, keep your body vertical as you hit the running trail. Take your first step and then land flat on your feet. Despite that your heel is a part of the midfoot strike, as the name midfoot implies, you’re landing more on the middle of your foot than the back.
The third form of running is the rearfoot strike. This is by far the most popular means of running. It’s believed that 80 percent of runners are rearfoot runners, says FL Runners.com, which would leave only 20 percent to run either midfoot or forefoot.
However, just because something is the most popular doesn’t mean it’s correct. Rearfoot running, which is also referred to as heel striking, causes you to hit the ground with your heel first.
If this is how you run, then you’re likely not standing straight as you get started. Your head is over your feet, and you’re bent at the waist. When you take a stride, your ankle flexes, which naturally allows for a heel strike. Then your hips go behind you as you land the heel strike only for you to do it again.
Heel striking can cause strain on your hips and knees, leading to injuries, yet switching out of this running pattern can be tough.
What Are the Benefits of Forefoot Running?
Between the three foot striking styles, forefoot running is preferable for its multitude of benefits. That doesn’t mean it’s risk-free (as we’ll cover in the next section), but the pros might outweigh the cons in this instance.
Here are the perks of forefoot running.
Potential Speed Boost
Heel striking, being so reliant on the backs of your feet, can cause your shoes to slow you down with each stride. When you shift your weight and the area of impact towards the front of your feet, your heels are less involved and thus, the same effect doesn’t occur.
It’s not like you’re going to start forefoot running and immediately be faster, though. You must first adjust to running in this style, then you’ll notice any benefits.
Oh, and you’ll be in good company, too. According to a 2007 report in The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, elite distance runners are predominantly found to use the fronts or mids of their feet to run, not the backs. Coincidence? We say not.
Less Shock Absorption
Even if you’re running on fluffy, feather-filled pillows, there’s still some impact on your body. After all, running is transferring the weight of your body towards your feet, so it can never be impact-free.
That said, the way you run can reduce the shock absorption your body receives with each step you take on your miles-long running path. By switching to forefoot running, due to the larger size of your forefoot compared to your heel, there’s more surface to receive the impact.
That almost cushions your body from the shock of impact, which can make a difference if you run long-distance using forefoot striking often enough.
Reduced Knee Impacts
Runners are always concerned about knee injuries. You might even believe that running will degrade your knees no matter what, but that’s simply not true. Heel striking can wear your knees down, leading to nagging pain.
Here’s why. You retract your ankle whenever you do a heel strike. This inadvertent action prevents your ankles from absorbing the running impact. What does that leave to absorb the impact instead? That’s right, it’s your knees.
Not only are your knees affected when you heel strike, but so too are your foot tendons. If you’ve had recurrent foot and knee injuries as a runner, it’s worth it to switch to toe running instead.
Does Forefoot Running Have Any Risks?
While it would be great if forefoot striking was 100 percent safe for all runners to engage in, that’s simply not true. Here are some downsides you must keep in mind if you want to switch to this running style.
Higher Calf and Toe Injury Risk
Here’s the thing about your running style. Whether it’s forefoot, midfoot, or heel striking, there’s no way to completely ward off injuries.
To reiterate, even if you’re running on a bed of fluffy pillows, there’s still some shock absorption happening to your body, and that’s what causes pain.
In the case of forefoot running, your calf muscles and your toes are impacted the most. The reason is that forefoot running makes you naturally lean forward, often without realizing it. This strains the toes and calves.
Requires Ankle Strengthening
According to a 2014 report from Western Washington University called Toe Running: The Good, The Fad, and The Ugly, “the ankle receives the impact from the ground and needs to be stronger and more stable when a forefoot strike is adopted.”
In other words, if you don’t take the time to strengthen your ankles, whether at the gym or through other exercises outside of running, you’re only going to make running on your toes an even harder transition.
Tips for Switching to Forefoot Running
You’ve carefully weighed the pros and cons and decided that you’d like to start forefoot running moving forward. How do you go from heel striking or even midfoot striking to forefoot striking? Here are some tips to get you started.
Changing the way you run is not an overnight process. You have to un-learn something you’ve been unconsciously doing for many years. Our recommendation is to take it very gradually. Start with a few blocks of forefoot striking at a time.
Don’t focus so much on your pace, but rather, pay attention to keeping yourself in the right position to run on your toes. If you feel your body naturally start to slide back to heel striking, consciously switch to forefoot striking instead.
Acclimate with a Bit of Barefoot Running
Of the three running styles, forefoot striking is the most comparable to running barefoot. Thus, the best way to strengthen your feet and ankles so you can succeed at running on your toes is to go barefoot running.
Don’t worry, you don’t have to ditch the shoes entirely if you’re not comfortable doing so. You can buy a pair of barefoot running shoes, which look like sneakers but feel like you’re not running in anything.
Barefoot shoes feature a zero-drop heel that minimizes the distance between your foot and the bare ground. An ultra-thin sole will also allow you to feel the texture of the ground below you, which is known as the groundfeel of the shoe. A wide toe box gives your toes the freedom to splay and move.
The goal is to work your way up to running a mile at least twice a week in your barefoot shoes. If you have the time, then run at least a mile in the shoes three times every week. After doing this for several weeks, you’ll be far readier to run on your toes.
Due to the changes your calves are undergoing as you become a forefoot runner, you cannot start any run on your toes without a thorough calf stretch. It’s a good habit to stretch ahead of a run anyway.
Assess Your Body
As you wrap up each forefoot run, assess how you’re feeling. Do your calves hurt? What about your ankles or even your knees? Is this pain abnormal compared to how you usually feel after a run? The pain is worth keeping an eye on.
The transition from heel striking to forefoot striking causes you to use new muscles, so it’s natural that the shift is moderately painful. That said, if you feel like you’re on the verge of injury–or worse yet–that you have injured yourself, it’s time to take a break and see your doctor.
Running on your toes is also known as forefoot striking, a means of running that relies a lot less on the heel. Many runners are heel strikers, whether through habit or intention, and this can wreck their knees.
Forefoot running entails distributing your weight towards the front of your foot. You might be able to run moderately faster once you get used to forefoot striking.
Even if you decide that forefoot running isn’t for you, by being able to identify how you run, you can modify your style so it’s less injurious. Good luck!