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Running Techniques of the Forefoot vs. Heel

author image Jim Thomas
Jim Thomas has been a freelance writer since 1978. He wrote a book about professional golfers and has written magazine articles about sports, politics, legal issues, travel and business for national and Northwest publications. He received a Juris Doctor from Duke Law School and a Bachelor of Science in political science from Whitman College.
Running Techniques of the Forefoot vs. Heel
Does your forefoot or heel strike the ground first? Photo Credit John Howard/Photodisc/Getty Images

One of the great track debates of 2011 is the issue of forefoot striking versus heel striking. Sport scientists and runners alike have debated whether it's better to strike the ground with the front of your foot or with your heel when you plant your foot. There are many advocates of forefoot running who believe you are far less likely to be injured if you master the forefoot strike. There are others who believe you might just be trading one set of potential injuries for another.


Despite the advances in sports medicine and improved shoe designs, the iRunFar.com website notes that the rate of running injuries has increased in recent years. Many running experts believe that the tendency of most runners to land on their heels is a major contributing factor. If you run with a heel strike, your leg is in a straight position in front of you at the moment of heel impact. At that instant, your body weight is transferred through your heel to your knee and also to the ankle, hip and back. Descending onto your heel creates a jolting and a braking action.


With a forefoot strike, your foot contacts the ground directly beneath your body. Your ankle and knee are bent and your hip is slightly open. There is no jolting or braking force. Advocates such as the CrossFit Atlanta website insist that forefront running acts as a natural shock absorber for the body. However, most of the evidence, as of publication date, is anecdotal.


A group of regular runners were taught to strike with their forefoot in a study at the University of Cape Town that was reported by iRunFar.com. Although the study found that runners reported less knee pain during the two-week testing period, after the study was over most of the 20 runners broke down with calf injuries, Achilles tendon strains and foot injuries.


In theory, forefoot running takes pressure off the knees and should help runners with knee and hip problems. Also in theory, heel running takes pressure off the ankles and helps prevent calf and Achilles injuries. The iRunFar.com website offers a practical suggestion to this runner's dilemma. If your running history is filled with knee and hip injuries, a change to forefoot striking is worth a try. If you heel strike and you don't have a history of those problems, you might leave well enough alone instead of risking a whole new set of potential injuries relating to forefoot strikes. If you do switch to forefoot strikes, take it slow. Joe The Runner.com suggests using the forefoot method no more than two to three miles per week for the first month.

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