Why Running On Toes Isn’t Usually The Recommended Foot Strike

Many runners ask, “Which part of my foot should I land on when running?” 

Essentially, should you run on your toes? Is heel striking bad when running? Is it better to land on the ball of your foot, heel, midfoot, or toes when you run?

In this article, we will discuss the different foot strike patterns or types of foot strikes runners use, the pros and cons of running on toes vs heel or other parts of the foot, and if and how you should change where on your foot you land while running.

We will cover the following: 

  • Types of Foot Strikes While Running
  • What Is the Best Foot Strike Pattern for Running, Running On Toes?
  • How Do You Know What Foot Strike Pattern You Run With?
  • How to Change Your Running Foot Strike Pattern

Let’s jump in! 

A runner on tip toes.

Types of Foot Strikes While Running

Before we delve into where on your foot you should land while running and whether it is better to run on your toes, land on the balls of your feet when running, or use a heel-striking pattern, we need to discuss the different types of foot strike running techniques different runners use.

As you will notice, there are advantages and disadvantages to each type of running foot strike pattern, and certain types of foot strikes may be better served for specific types of running.

#1: Forefoot Running: Running On Toes

A forefoot running foot strike pattern involves landing on your toes while running or landing on the ball of your foot when you run.

Proponents of forefoot running believe that the forefoot running technique supports better forward momentum and places less stress on the knees relative to heel striking when running.

A sprinter running in their toes.

However, there are also drawbacks to running on your toes or utilizing a forefoot running stride, some of which may offset the potential forward momentum and resultant energy savings when forefoot running vs heel striking. 

For example, landing on the ball of your foot or close to your toes often leads to bouncing when you run, which can be visualized as an increased vertical oscillation of your entire body.

Bouncing increases the up-and-down motion and thus has an energy cost that is not contributing to forward movement.

In other words, if you are forefoot striking and engaging in a lot of up-and-down movement of your center of mass, you are wasting energy that could otherwise be used for propelling your body forward as is desired when running.

Moreover, while running with a heel strike may be worse for your knees or increase impact stress compared to a forefoot or toe-striking running stride, running on your toes has been associated with an increased risk of repetitive stress injuries to the feet such as metatarsal stress fractures.

It may also cause tightness in the calves and Achilles tendons due to the increased workload of eccentrically decelerating the forward momentum of the body and then immediately bouncing back up to press off for push-off.

A runner heel striking.

#2: Heel Striking

Heel striking involves landing on your rear foot and then falling forward on your foot as your weight travels forward so that you roll from heel to toe for push-off.

The majority of recreational runners are heel strikers.

Evidence suggests that most runners find rearfoot striking to be the most natural and comfortable even though the body is “designed” for midfoot striking.

Rearfoot striking is typically associated with overstriding, which can increase the risk of injuries such as shin splints and runner’s knee.

#3: Midfoot Running

A midfoot strike running pattern means that you are landing in the middle of your foot, somewhere around the sole of your foot underneath the mediolateral arch.

Many distance running coaches suggest that the midfoot striking running gait optimizes the efficiency of the stride and the biomechanics of the foot and lower leg.

When you land on the midfoot, the arch of the foot can compress and then rebound at push-off. 

A runner on a track with a midfoot strike.

The compression works as a natural shock absorber, helping to disperse impact stresses and allow the foot to conform to the ground like a mobile adaptor and then like a rigid lever for push-off when the arch springs back up into place.

This may reduce the risk of running injuries and joint stress on the ankle, foot, and knee.

What Is the Best Foot Strike Pattern for Running, Running On Toes?

So, should you run on your toes? Which part of my foot should I land on when running?

Although there is an ongoing debate about the merits of trying to switch from a heel-striking pattern to landing on your midfoot, the evidence is actually mixed about the benefits of doing so.

Some studies have even found that rearfoot landing while running isn’t inherently bad and may actually be more economical and comfortable for most runners.

By improving running economy, runners are able to potentially run faster and longer because less energy is used to maintain this running stride.

Additionally, some evidence suggests that rearfoot or heel striking may actually reduce the risk of injuries and lower impact stresses for some runners.

A runner heel striking.

There is also evidence that has shown that your running foot strike pattern may not actually have any appreciable association with your risk of running injuries.

Moreover, the type of running that you are doing will have an impact on the best foot strike pattern to use.

Running on toes or running on your forefoot is ideal for sprinters and very fast, short-duration running such as uphill sprints, strides, and sprinting intervals or races. Midfoot striking (and potentially heel striking) is better for distance runners.

How Do You Know What Foot Strike Pattern You Run With?

There are various methods to determine what type of foot strike pattern you use when running or where on your foot you are landing when running.

In fact, one study found that only 68% of runners were able to report their actual footstrike pattern correctly.

The best option is to get a running gait analysis at a running shoe store. This is usually a free service, and it can help you determine your foot strike along with other issues with your running gait and stride.

If a professional running gait analysis is not an option, you can ask a friend to capture a video of you running so that you can try to assess your foot strike pattern.

If neither of these options is possible, it is sometimes helpful to look at the wear pattern on the bottom of your running shoes to help assess where on your foot you land when you run. 

If you see a lot of wear on the heel, for instance, you are likely heel striking. 

On the other hand, if the heel of the shoe is intact, but there’s a lot of wear on the forefoot, you might be landing on your forefoot and pushing off with your toes.

A person getting a gait analysis.

How to Change Your Running Foot Strike Pattern 

If you do decide that you want to change your running form to land on a different part of your foot, there are various strategies you can employ to shift your foot strike pattern.

Most runners are interested in gradually transitioning from heel striking to midfoot striking, so these tips will mostly be geared toward that goal.

#1: Increase Your Cadence

Heel striking often occurs because the runner is overstriding.

One of the best ways to stop landing on your heel and start landing on your midfoot when you run is to shorten your stride.

This can be accomplished by increasing your cadence or the number of steps you take per minute.

A runner on a track.

#2: Switch Shoes

Due to the fact that most runners are indeed heel strikers, the majority of traditional running shoes have more of a built-up heel to provide extra cushioning to help attenuate impact forces.

Known as the heel-to-toe drop, the heel of the shoe is usually about 8 to 13 mm higher or thicker than the toe of the shoe due to this extra cushioning.

While it can be helpful to have extra cushioning in the heel to help absorb shock when landing as you run, conventional running shoes with a built-up heel sort of create a “chicken-or-egg“ scenario for runners who are trying to transition away from rearfoot striking to a midfoot striking running gait.

Essentially, by having a thicker heel, the heel portion of the shoe actually extends downward closer to the ground, more so than the mid-foot or toe of the shoe.

This means that unless you really go out of your way to have your shin completely vertical to the ground when you land, the heel of the shoe will naturally hit the ground first since it extends down closer to the ground.

If you want to encourage midfoot striking, you can consider gradually transitioning to minimalist running shoes or those with a lower heel. 

Just make sure to make the change in footwear gradually to prevent the risk of injuries and allow your body to get used to the lower heel height.

A runner's stride.

#3: Add Strides

Running strides and faster intervals naturally encourages landing closer to your toes when you run. This can help pattern the neuromuscular connections to encourage midfoot striking for longer runs.

For more information about optimizing your running stride and the benefits of understanding your own personal running technique, check out our guide to getting a running gait analysis and how a running form or gait analysis can be helpful for improving your technique and performance as a runner.

A person getting a gait analysis.
Photo of author
Amber Sayer is a Fitness, Nutrition, and Wellness Writer and Editor, as well as a NASM-Certified Nutrition Coach and UESCA-certified running, endurance nutrition, and triathlon coach. She holds two Masters Degrees—one in Exercise Science and one in Prosthetics and Orthotics. As a Certified Personal Trainer and running coach for 12 years, Amber enjoys staying active and helping others do so as well. In her free time, she likes running, cycling, cooking, and tackling any type of puzzle.

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