Biomechanist challenges idea that forefoot strike pattern reduces runners’ injury rate

Cites lack of conclusive evidence

By Jordana Bieze Foster

“UMass researchers have demonstrated that, although forefoot strikers do not experience a vertical ground reaction force “impact peak,” they do experience impacts during running, albeit at lower frequencies than rearfoot strikers. This research, presented last summer at the American College of Sports Medicine meeting in Denver, suggests that because those lower frequencies are attenuated by muscle tissues, while higher frequencies are attenuated by bone, forefoot strikers may actually face a higher risk of muscle injury than rearfoot strikers.

Claims that loading rate is significantly lower in forefoot strikers than rearfoot strikers also may not be entirely accurate, Hamill said. He cited research from Iowa State University, scheduled to be presented in August at the annual meeting of the American Society of Biomechanics, suggesting that when natural forefoot strikers switch to a rearfoot strike pattern, their loading rate actually decreases.

Research, most notably the oft-cited Harvard study published in Nature in 2010, have found higher magnitudes of ground reaction force in rearfoot strikers than in forefoot strikers. However, Hamill noted, the heel is a much less delicate structure than the forefoot and therefore may be better suited to absorb higher forces.”