Running is a great way to exercise, It’s accessible to pretty much anyone, anywhere in the world and in any climate. It’s inexpensive and can be a great way to socialise as well. While these are all nice things, no one enjoys the onset of those nagging aches and pains that all too often seem to come with the territory of a running habit! Achilles tendon and calf strains, runners knee (patellar tendonitis), ITB syndrome, plantar fascia issues and even low back pain will send many runners into my office, and while I appreciate the business, managing these problems with me takes time and resources.
The fact is that many common running injuries can be a result of poor running form. Good form can work wonders for preventing and helping in the rehabilitation of run related injuries. One way to manage these issues is by adopting a forefoot running style. forefoot running is the practice of running with a strike on the ball of the foot rather than the heel. It’s been making a splash in recent years as the go to running form when wearing minimalist running shoes. It allows the forces of the ground strike to be absorbed along a chain of soft tissues rather than through the joints and if done well can help to prevent the onset of the aforementioned injuries.
For a complete description this run style, I strongly suggest reading The Running Revolution by Nicholas Romanov. This book lays out the details of forefoot running complete with illustrated drills to help you practice the fundamentals.
The below is a cheat sheet to the basics of adopting a forefoot run style and should get you started on this pattern.
Maintain athletic stance - You will shift your center of mass onto your toes with a slight bend in your knees. This is your basic stance, keep that weight over the forefoot at all times, your heels will only ever “kiss” the ground.
Feel your center of mass - You should be able to perceive your center of mass over your base of support (your forefoot). Notice how leaning forward or back shifts your perception of the center of mass in your feet.
Lean forward! Lean forward from the ankles so that your center of mass moves forward of your feet to the point where you perceive a “falling forward” sensation.
Catch your forward fall - Pull your swing leg forward so that it catches your “fall” on the forefoot and strikes the ground under the opposite hip.
Land on the ball of your foot - The key element of forefoot running style is (obviously) to strike the ground on your forefoot (the ball of your foot)! This is as compared to a heel strike style that most of us are used to. Using a forefoot strike running style requires changes to the way you think about your gait. In general you’ll need to shift your weight forward (lean in to the run), and take smaller steps with a higher turnover frequency.
Strike with your foot under your hip - When you do touch down on your forefoot, you will strike with your foot as close to under your hip as possible. Your swing leg (the leg that isn’t supporting you in stance) will pull to a “figure 4” position with the foot just under the the knee of the stance side.
Running with a forefoot strike is a skill. Like any other athletic skill (serving a tennis ball, swinging a golf club) it takes time and practice. Be patient with yourself and be persistent when you don’t nail it the first (or tenth) time! Most importantly have fun!
If you would like to discuss this style of running in more detail or talk about any running related injuries, consider joining my “injured runners club”. This is a club that meets weekly here in Toronto to practice the good run form described above at a pace appropriate for those new to the style or who are working with injuries. The club is free, fun and functional! Please contact me for more details. As always don’t hesitate to contact me to book an appointment.