When it comes to running, one of the most debated topics is whether you should aim for a forefoot or heel strike. This question, particularly relevant for long-distance runners, sparks considerable discussion among coaches, athletes, and scientists. 

The debate between forefoot and heel striking in running is complex, with research indicating that while forefoot striking can reduce impact forces by allowing better shock absorption, it shifts stress to the Achilles tendon and calf muscles. Conversely, heel striking, common among those using cushioned shoes, may increase impact forces on the legs but is often the natural running pattern for many. Ultimately, the most effective approach is to let your body find its most economical stride through consistent running and appropriate footwear, rather than forcefully altering your natural gait.

Here, we delve into the nuances of foot strike patterns and their implications for runners.

Understanding Foot Strike Patterns

Forefoot Strike

A forefoot strike involves landing on the balls of your feet. This technique is often associated with reduced impact forces as it theoretically allows for better shock absorption through the leg. The initial contact with the ground occurs at the front of the foot, which can potentially reduce the risk of certain injuries.

Related: How To STOP Your Feet From Hurting When You Run

Heel Strike

A heel strike, on the other hand, involves landing on the heel before transitioning to the rest of the foot. This is common among runners who use cushioned shoes with a high heel-to-toe drop (12-16mm). Heel striking has been viewed critically due to the higher impact forces transmitted through the legs, which some believe can increase injury risk.

The Scientific Perspective

Research indicates that while forefoot striking may reduce impact forces, it shifts stress to the Achilles tendon and the calf muscles (soleus). For individuals accustomed to running in cushioned shoes for many years, transitioning to a forefoot strike can cause strain and potential injury due to the increased demand on these muscles and tendons.

Practical Insights

Individual Running Stride

Every runner has a unique stride that their body naturally adopts over time. This stride is influenced by various factors including anatomy, strength, and running history. Attempting to forcefully change this natural stride can sometimes lead to inefficiency and injury, especially during high-stress conditions like races.

Coaching Experience

Years of coaching experience reveal that when athletes are under pressure, they often revert to their natural running patterns. Despite incorporating drills and exercises aimed at improving running form, the ingrained habits of a runner tend to prevail, especially when they stop consciously thinking about their technique.

Coordination and Drills

Incorporating coordination drills into training can stimulate the muscles required for better running form. These drills enhance running coordination and may subtly influence running mechanics without the need to drastically change one’s natural stride.

Footwear Considerations

Choosing the right footwear is crucial for complementing your running style. For heel strikers, cushioned shoes with appropriate support can mitigate some of the impact forces. Forefoot strikers might benefit from shoes designed with less heel-to-toe drop, promoting a more natural forefoot landing.

Related: Choosing the Right Shoes for Training and Races

Adapting to Your Body

Natural Economy

Your body naturally finds the most economical running stride over time. By running consistently and building up your mileage gradually, you allow your body to adapt and optimize its running mechanics.

Stress and Adaptation

Shifting from a heel strike to a forefoot strike requires careful adaptation to avoid overloading the Achilles and calf muscles. Transitioning gradually and incorporating strength training exercises can help prepare these muscles for the new demands.In conclusion, there is no one-size-fits-all answer to whether a forefoot or heel strike is better. The best approach is to listen to your body and allow it to find its most natural and economical stride. By focusing on overall strength, coordination, and choosing the right footwear, you can enhance your running efficiency and reduce the risk of injury. Remember, what works for one runner may not work for another, so it’s essential to tailor your approach to your individual needs and circumstances.


With a passion for high performance sport – Lindsey Parry is one of South Africa’s most widely recognised coaches. Having led a team to the London, Rio and Tokyo Olympic Games as well as the Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh, the Gold Coast & Birmingham, and coached both triathletes and runners onto podiums of some of the world’s most illustrious races, Lindsey has a unique ability to understand what it takes to succeed at any level and thrives on coaching, motivating and inspiring others to do the same – whether it’s on the track, on stage or behind a mic.

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