How Toe-running Works

Toe-running Form

Let's say you run with a heel strike and you want to give toe-running a shot. How do you get started?

There are a few keys to correct form. Harvard professor Daniel Lieberman and his collaborators observed the biomechanics of forefoot strikers in a January 2010 study. At the moment of impact, the foot lands on the ball underneath the fourth and fifth metatarsals, the sole is angled inward, and the toes are pointed slightly down. Next, the arch flattens and stretches as the heel comes down. The lower leg moves forward while the foot pronates (rolls inward and downward) from the forefoot to the heel. The ankle plantarflexes (toes pointed slightly down), the arch recoils, and the toes flex to drive the body upward and forward [source: Lieberman et al].

The whole motion should be gentle, and it's generally easier to grasp sans shoes. Shod forefoot strikers need to exaggerate the downward point of the toes. "That puts extra stress on your foot," Lieberman says. "It's harder to do and it takes more strength" [source: Lieberman]. For this reason, it's wise to add in a few cross-training exercises to address these delicate areas.

The Pose Method prescribes a posture for forefoot strikers in which the body leans just slightly forward with knees slightly bent, landing on the ball of the foot after "falling" forward with each stride, and lifting the opposite foot under its corresponding hip. The head points straight ahead and the shoulders are directly over the hips and ankles [source: Pose Tech].

Reformed heel strikers will need to take shorter strides than they're used to and expect an extended period of adjustment. Keep your toe-running mileage low -- no more than a mile every other day during the first week. If you feel OK, increase your mileage by roughly 10 percent each subsequent week. If you're an experienced heel-striker who is already logging a lot of miles, just introduce toe-running incrementally, gradually increasing the total amount of time in which you use your new foot strike. It takes several months to develop the calf strength, durability in the Achilles tendon, and flexibility in the ankle to toe-run competently [source: Lieberman et al].

Stretch after your runs, and be honest with yourself through the transition. Take a break if you're exceptionally sore, and if pain persists, don't fight it -- seek medical treatment.

Can toe-running prevent injury? Turn the page and let's look at both sides of the debate.