Forefoot Running

When I tell people that I love distance running, I often get reprimanded. “You’re going to blow out your knees,” people warn me.

I don’t know if they genuinely think they are going to save me from the perils of ACL surgery or if people just like to get on a soapbox, but it’s getting old.

Distance running is not inherently bad. When running injuries occur, it is often due to improper training and/or running with bad form.

I might get in trouble for saying this, but we are each responsible for our own fate. If you take good care of your body and you know how to safely progress, there shouldn’t be an issue. Too many people get it in their head that they want to run a marathon, but they can barely even run a mile! If you don’t build up to longer distances gradually (the general rule is to increase your total mileage by no more than ten percent each week), you are setting yourself up for overuse injuries.

That, and for crying out loud, stop landing on your damn heels!

In the book Born to Run, Christopher McDougal suggests that modern running sneakers (Nikes in particular) are to blame for Americans’ poor running technique. He points out that the over-cushioning prevents people from realizing that their form is detrimental to their joints. Ironically, the very footwear that was designed to prevent these injuries is often the culprit behind them.

If you try running barefoot, you’ll quickly see for yourself how unpleasant it can be to land on your heels!

While I do like to run in sneakers sometimes, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be mindful of proper form.

Running on your heels isn’t only risky for your joints, it’s also not a very efficient way to get the most out of each stride. By leaning forward and landing on your mid-foot and toes, you keep your momentum and allow gravity to do some of the work for you. Whether you are a recreational jogger, or a triathlon competitor, proper running technique is key.

Several different names for the technique of leaning forward and landing on the forefoot have been used. A Russian doctor named Nicolas Romanov coined the term “pose running” in the late seventies and has written a great deal about it.

Many other books have addressed the problems with landing on your heels, such as Chi Running by Danny Dreyer.

Before you decide that “running isn’t for you,” make sure you fully explore all the evidence. Don’t be in a rush to get to the finish line, instead try to simply enjoy each step along the way.

14 thoughts on “Forefoot Running

  • By Clement -

    Hi there, al, big fan of your work. Not many
    people do human flags and pistols and run marathons! Which shoes do you recommend for improving forefoot running? Besides the five fingers, which turn heads a bit too much for my liking. I heard the Nike frees are good?

    Also, in your opinion, are canvas shoes better for running than sports shoes that over-pronate your foot? Converse shoes vs. asics gel shoes that have thick heel portions, for example?

  • By Al Kavadlo -

    Hey Clement,
    I'm glad you like my website–thanks for the kind words!

    As far as running sneakers go, make sure you find sneakers that are comfortable and that fit you properly. After that, I think it's just personal preference.

    I've heard good things about the Nike frees, but I refuse to wear Nike's (I think they are an evil corporation like McDonalds or Coca-Cola) so I'll never know. I like running in New Balance (and Asics too sometimes). Even though they have thick heels, it doesn't mean you have to land on them!

  • By Clement -

    Thanks for the advice, Al. I like that Nike jibe! I wear asics now. I'll stick to them then. Cheers!

  • By elizabethharcourt -

    love this one. thanks. and my nike frees have completely changed my running experiences – during (my toes aren't ready to explode and feet continue to feel light throughout the run) and following (my toes and toenails haven't “exploded” and my feet feel great!), even though initially i didn't want to like pink bombers either. could it be that nike is changing its ways? i hear starbucks is eliminating processed ingredients from its pastries, so maybe evil nike is making a change for the better, too?

  • By Al Kavadlo -

    Hey Elizabeth–glad you like your new sneakers. Sure, it is possible that Nike is changing their evil ways. But it's also possible that your old sneakers just didn't fit you properly. Either way, I am very happy that your toenails aren't falling off anymore!

    I don't patronize Starbucks either, FYI.

  • By Sarah Laningham -

    I learned the Pose method of running last summer and it has made running so much more enjoyable and effective. There are free videos on the pose method site and on youtube that are pretty good.

  • By Al Kavadlo -

    Right on, Sarah!

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