Forefoot Running and Calf Pain

Jul 19, 2011   //   by James Dunne   //   Running Technique Advice  //  46 Comments

It’s not unusual for runners who are making the change from a heel striking running style to more of a forefoot or midfoot striking style to feel a strong link between the new forefoot/midfoot running style and calf pain. While this is widely accepted as “normal” and “par for the course” in early stages of running with this type of foot strike pattern, it really shouldn’t be if the transition in form is approached properly!

Why Do So Many Forefoot Runners Suffer Calf Pain?

In the case of those moving to a forefoot or midfoot strike pattern, calf pain and tightness in the first few weeks of using this new running style is due to the changes in the loading demands on the calf complex and muscle groups of the lower leg.

Previously when heel-striking, much of the impact and loading was taken by the skeletal system, through the joints. Now however, with a forefoot or midfoot strike the muscles and tendons are positioned to better absorb the load, in turn offloading the joints.

From a biomechanical point of view, this works well as long as the muscles and tendons (calf muscles and achilles tendons in particular) are ready for the task! However, if there is a lack of strength, mobility and stability around the ankle, the muscles of the lower leg will tighten up and/or suffer an overuse injury such as a calf strain or achilles tendinopathy.

As well as strength, technique plays a massive role. If you are too far onto your forefoot (foot pointing down on contact), the calf will experience unnecessary loading. This is usually the case when overstriding and “reaching out” to forefoot strike.

To compound the situation, if you then keep foot pointing down (plantarflexed at the ankle) while the foot is in contact – as many new to forefoot/midfoot running do – the whole calf complex will be excessively loaded throughout the stance phase.

  • I use the visualization of landing on the rear aspect of the ball of my foot rather than on my toes to help me get a comfortable midfoot strike.
  • Another good cue is to see how close you can get your heel to touching down simultaneously with the forefoot – without actually loading the heel. This will feel like you hit the ground first with your forefoot, then almost immediately lightly kiss the ground with your heel.

The other element of technique to think about is where the foot lands rather than simply how. The muscles of the lower leg act as a shock absorber, when over-striding the shock which needs to be absorbed increased significantly. The increased braking force associated with an athlete over-striding (landing the foot too far ahead of the knee and centre of mass) becomes excessive load for the calf and achilles complex to deal with upon contact. If the calves are weak, or prone to injury. This could prove too much and prompt failure – injury.

Calf pain overstriding

 

How can I avoid calf pain?

There are a number of things you can do to manage calf pain during this transition period for your running technique and to avoid excess calf loading:

Calf and Soleus Stretches

Self Massage

Lower Leg Strengthening

Running Technique Work

One simple running technique cue for you to consider:

  • Focus on bringing the foot down to the ground under a slightly bent knee rather than feeling that you are reaching out forwards with the foot.

Follow A Progressive Technique Transition Program

Make sure you don’t do too much too soon, your calves won’t thank you for it! Forefoot running and calf pain can be a less of a issue when follow a progressive program designed to help you through the transitional phases of changing your running technique, such as our Online Running Technique Course (currently 50% discount).

About The Author

James has an academic background in Sport Rehabilitation and a special interest in Applied Biomechanics. He currently coaches a large number of Runners and Triathletes across all levels of ability and performance. He's grown a strong reputation for enabling athletes to improve their running performance and overcome running injuries through improving their Running Technique and developing Running Specific Strength.

 

46 Comments

  • G’day James, great post. What are your thoughts on using a bit of barefoot jogging or wearing minimalist shoes such as a Nike Free 3.0 to practice getting the foot strike right? I reckon it’s hard to practice the different cues you mention with anything other than a pretty flexible and flattish shoe. Cheers Brian.

    • Hi Brian, thanks for the comment. I often encourage runners who are trying to perfect their midfoot or forefoot foot strike to try some barefoot running or running in minimalist footwear.

      Particularly with barefoot running, I recommend that they use this as a “training tool” to use for running technique work between the warm-up and their main run.

      Not for them to just disgard their shoes one day and continue with their normal running program!

      Minimalist shoes like the Nike Free 3.0 definitely make it easier to achieve the cues in the article above, as they remove the effective heel-raise created by cushioned, supportive, more structured running shoes.

      However, I always suggest that if the athlete is used to a cushioned, supportive, more structured running shoe, then to make the transition down to a minimalist running shoe gradually. As reducing the heel to toe gradient will load the calf complex through a greater range, which some people may find causes tightness initially.

      Examples of such progressions towards minimalism could be:

      Nike Structure Triax >> Nike Free Run >> Nike Free 3.0

      Asics 2160 >> Asics DS >> Asics Hyperspeed

      Cheers,

      James

      • Hello James,
        thank you for the posted article.
        I have been trying to change my form from heel to forefoot for the past several months.
        About 2 miles into the run I get the sharp stabbing pain in my left calf area and have to go back to heel strike and sometimes revert to a walk. It side lines me for a couple of days and when I am able to run again, the process repeats itself???
        I am 48 and have been a heel runner forever. Do you think it may not be possible to make the transition to forfoot? I am being concious not to overstride.
        Thanks for your time,
        Roger

  • When I started wearing minimalist shoes I would go about 1 mile at a time to ease into it. My calves would burn like crazy. It took about a week of running before I got the hang of it. After doing a little research I found that I needed to let my heel land with the balls of my feet.Just as you mentioned above. Now I am running a much longer distance. I am now tweaking my speed. It is actually pretty fun running this way. I wear Huaraches from http://www.invisibleshoe.com.
    Come to thing of it I wear those as often as I can in everyday life.
    Happy running.

  • You get calf pain, because it’s incorrect biomechanically to run like that! We are designed to run on heel strike

    • Hi Daniel, thanks for the comment.

      As a Physio yourself, you’ll know that research to date has been too limited to answer for certain the debate around midfoot/forefoot vs heel striking, in terms of which method is biomechnaically correct or otherwise, creating a great deal of often heated dialogue between experts the health and fitness industry.

      However, there’s little/no argument between experts in the fact that over-striding and landing significantly ahead of your CoM is a bad thing and leads to excessive loading, irrespective of whether you heel strike or land on the forefoot/midfoot.

      It’s for these combined reasons that we as coaches at Kinetic Revolution don’t force heel striking runners onto their midfoot or forefoot in a bid to improve efficiency… We enable runners to improve their posture and swing leg firing pattern to bring the foot down closer to under the CoM, often maintaining heel strike as they do so, but a much lighter heel strike as isn’t as far ahead of the CoM. Some runners will have the strength and ankle mobility to do this in a midfoot position, in which case, if they want to change to a midfoot strike, we guide them through the very gradual process.

      So to respond to your statement above, the scientific community is yet to agree on what is the biomechanically correct and incorrect way to run in respect of heel strike vs midfoot/forefoot. However, in any case, even if we could all agree on the biomechanically correct pattern, surely the goal is to find what’s correct for the individual given their personal physical limitations (strength/stability/weight/injury history/etc), goals and other factors… whether that turns out to be a heel-strike under CoM or midfoot/forefoot.

      Always keen to discuss further :)

      Regards,

      James

    • Dan…that is utter nonsense!

      Look at all the top runners in the world and hardly any of them will heel strike and for good reason. Efficiency does not come with heel striking which has a braking effect and unnecessary load through the kinetic chain. The reason ‘most’ ordinary people heel strike is simply over the years, and I mean generations here, we have developed poor form and that has been exaggerated by excessively cushioned shoes that we are all sold by shoe companies.

      Natures way is forefoot or midfoot….check out a small child running barefoot and I guarantee he/she will not be heel striking. That will come later when they run less and get introduced to these ridiculously priced shoes we’re sold. Also look at all sprinters….none will heel strike as it’s simply not natural to do so at speed. I would go as far to say that a sprinter at full speed could NOT heel strike even if they wanted too!

  • I initially had my doubts about the whole midfoot/forefoot debate. Then I started to watch my kids run, (ages 3 and 8) and I began to believe that heel running was a learned behavior/shoe behavior. Or at least not natural for young children, at least. I am nearly 50, and want to minimize the impact on my knees, so I began to transition to midfoot strike, and it seems to put more stress on my muscles.tendons and less on my joints. The jury is still out for me, as I am still in the transition phase, but I seem to be a little faster, and have less pain after running.

  • Hi, Im a basketball player who runs and lands predominantly on my heels. I have been working hard to improve my technique, would you suggest barefoot training as my physio has said I need to wear insoles at all times especially during exercise.

  • I use the Nike Free 3 and find them ideal for improving running technique. It’s important like you say to build up distance etc gradually-I had aching calves and bum after the first mile I did in them. But am now up to 10. Biggest problem I have is switching to the heavier and more supportive trainers I need for netball-my feet felt really sore after first pre-season session. Any suggestions?! Cheers

  • I wish I had read this article before attempting to forefoot run. I have been watching countless videos on forefoot and barefoot running (and midfoot) and reading a lot about it. I am a 40 year old female, 5’5.5″ and 106 lbs and I am moderately active with cycling, hiking, yoga, dancing, and just generally working out. I have attempted running in the past without much success but for some reason I became hooked with it again a few months ago and started running three to four times a week. I am VERY NEW at running, as in I have built up to barely 3 miles at a time three to four times a week (usually more on the treadmill and slightly less mileage outside). I love to run on trails but only do this once or twice a week due to time limits and access. The rest of the time is split between the treadmill and outside around the neighborhood on pavement which seems to be worse on my joints. I have very high arches and a slight turnout from years of ballet training. I had my husband videotape me a few times and I still can’t tell if I naturally midfoot or heel strike, but I seem to come down on the whole foot at once I think.
    At any rate I started trying the forefoot approach a week ago. I took off my shoes (I was wearing an Asics neutral shoe) and ran barefoot on the treadmill for five minutes and I loved the feeling I got. It felt effortless. I tried doing this again at a local beach on the harder packed sand and again felt lighter but I could sense that time it seemed to be more of an effort needed to maintain the running style. Tuesday I ran in my Asics around the neighborhood and did 1.5 miles in my usual way and then 1.5 miles forefoot, making sure not to overstride. I found that it did take some effort as I wasn’t used to it and I found myself going 6.2 mph instead of my usual 6.0 mph according to my gps. It was hard not to speed up and therefore tire a little easier. Later that day I felt some calf soreness but I expected this. What I didn’t expect was ankle pain, especially in the inner sides of my ankles/heel but a slight cramp on the outer edge of my right foot. Still, I stupidly ran forefoot the next day for twenty minutes on the treadmill. By the 18 minute mark my right foot was really starting to hurt and I had to stop. Energy wise I would have been able to keep going I believe for longer than I would have before if not for the foot pain. Within several hours my right ankle was throbbing and I noticed pain and soreness on my left ankle as well, and my calves are so tight and sore it’s hard to walk once I have been sitting more than thirty minutes. Three days later and I have not been able to run at all since Wedneday. I am limping and my ankles and arches are still very sore with occasional shooting pains. My calves are still very tight, though I have been massaging and stretching them and they loosen with gentle activity. I am really worried that I might have damaged my feet and ankles from all this. Could twenty minutes of forefoot running really cause this much pain? The only thing I am thinking I did incorrectly for sure (aside from pushing myself too far too soon) by watching your videos is that I did not allow my heel to come down enough after landing through the forefoot, placing extra load on my forefoot and arches. I also felt like I was pronating more than I noticed before (from the outside of the foot).
    The whole reason I looked into forefoot running is to improve efficiency, reduce joint stress and pounding and to run with more ease. I love running but I have had some minor soreness in my arches, knees, and ankles since starting. I have had similar soreness with long distance cycling as well. Most of the soreness with running comes after running on pavement. Trail running is much more foregiving on my body but maybe its because I run more cautiously. Any tips would be very helpful. For now I am waiting out this soreness and pain and if I do plan to try forefoot running again it’s going to be for very short intervals.

    • I like you decided to try forefoot running after my physio spoke of the POSE method of running. I hired a running coach who after 10 minutes of warm up made me run bare foot for another 50 doing drills and short runs. When I got home I could hardly walk from the car to the house because of the pain in my calves. In pain for 4 days. 5 days later I tried to run and have ripped both my calves and now have to see a sports medicine doctor in 2 days who I know will make me take several weeks off running. This may work for some but certainely not for this 52 yo female who has been running happily for 25 years heel striking out in front.

      • Hi Andrea,

        I’m saddened to hear that you’ve had such a negative experience with changing your running technique. Unfortunately, it’s a story I hear far too frequently – particularly with POSE and coaches who throw runners straight into forefoot running without looking at the bigger picture, or the need for a longer-term progressive approach. So many runners (like yourself perhaps) would benefit from remaining heel strikers – but becoming ‘better’ heel strikers… maintaining a slight (and more familiar) heel strike, while improving posture, pelvic position, cadence and reducing the tendency to over stride.

        Best of luck with your recovery from this new calf injury.

        James

  • When I changed my technique to a mid foot strike I found that my calves became very sore for a few months. But eventually the pain does subside and your body adapts. The best advice I can give from my experinces (which I have blogged about http://www.runchaser.com/2012/10/my-quest-to-become-a-better-runner-.html) is to very slowly transition to the change or you will end up getting injured. The body adapts well if it is given time. Also consider other aspects of good running technique as it is an all in one package not just a change in foot strike.

    • Thanks for the comment John. Great advice for anybody looking to make the change to a midfoot strike.

  • James,

    Just reviewed your youtube analysis on Crowie & Lieto’s running form and found it to be very informative for me. I have been applying techniques from chi-running (Danny Dreyer) and am very excited with the progress I have made recently. However, as I have increased mileage from 25 to 35+ a week, I’ve started to feel frontal calf strain in my left leg (I also suffer from achilles pain on my right foot) and also reviewed your “Forefoot Strike Achilles Pain – The Cause” video which shed further light on my calf and “itis”issues. I am still fine-tuning my gait cycle and am eager for my next run where I will shorten my stride to “accommodate” my calf strain. I’ll let you know hot it goes…

    Thanks!!!

  • Just what I was looking for. I have strained my calf again after around 2years of the same problem. It seems when run short, high intensity races the problem reoccurs. I’m at a loss as to why and it’s very debilitating. Especially having to take running breaks whilst healing.
    However a lot of what is described fits my character so I will look at implementing when The strain has healed.

    Chris.

  • Thank you for posting this information! I’m still transitioning from being a heel striker and wondered if I was putting to much pressure on the ball of my foot because my calves ache! And now I know to land heel with midfoot. How many days off should one take when calves are aching?
    Loula

    • Hi Loula,

      Thanks for commenting. Some good advice (as you mention) would be for you to aim for more of a “flatter feeling” midfoot strike, rather than being right up on the balls of your feet.

      It’s very hard to give a specific number of days to rest – as everybody is different, and every episode of calf tightness or pain differs in severity. A good rule of thumb is never to run on already painful / tight calfs. Use pain and discomfort as a guide as to how much rest to give yourself.

  • I’ve been running barefoot (vibram five fingers) for 3 years about. I just entered a 10 mile warm up event for the year. Half way in i felt something weird on the inside of my leg shooting all the way to back of my knee. Flexor digitorum longus is the muscle I think? It’s been a week now and I still can’t walk on it. I’m on crutches. Was wondering if this is normal? What can I do?
    I finished the race but now I’m thinking that was a very bad idea.
    Thanks

  • Great advice and suggestions on tight calves from changing running technique. I am changing from heel to mid/front due to weak glutes and overloading adductors. So far so good, better pace and still getting 50-60k’s a week in. the tight calves will disappear and self massage certainly helps. Would ice treatment help? Thanks

  • Hi,

    There is some really good advice on this site which I will be trying to apply the next time I attempt to run! As Ellen said earlier, wish I’d read this before I attempted to change the way I ran! I am currently suffering from bad pain and tightness in both of my calves and also pain in my right ankle from half an hour on the treadmill two days ago! I have a history of shin splints and have been told I overpronate when I run so bought ‘special’ trainers to try and ease it. However, I’ve become conscious of how heavy footed I sound on the treadmill and I think I land flat footed (hence the sound) so thought I’d try running more on the balls of my feet. Paying the price now! How do you ease into this change of running style, or should I not at all?! I play netball too but all these strains and injuries are starting to take their toll on me!

  • Hi James,

    I have been mid/front foot running for 2 – 3 years now and there is one questions I’d love an answer to – what happens when you run down hill? Does the mid/front foot technique have to be left behind and a return to heal striking as you go down?

    Also, I had the usual calf aches when I switch but those went within a few months. Recently though I have been struggling with a new pain that only comes on at the longer distances. I ran the Paris marathon in 3.15 the other week but my calves gave up at around the 37k mark. Is this just training or technique? The pain continued for a good 10 days.

    Top site – thanks!

  • Good article. In the quest to eliminate knee pain, I tried to become a forefoot striker. However, I’ve really hurt my Achilles in the process. Had to scrap plans for marathon #7 this year.

    Any suggestions on how to ease off on the forefoot striking? Become more of a heel striker?

    Jim

    • Hi Jim,

      Yours is a story I hear far too often. While research tells us that forefoot running reduces stress on the knees, it certainly increases torque around the ankle – placing the calf/achilles complex under increased strain.

      Have you seen this post on Forefoot Running for Ironman athletes (I know you’re not an IM athlete, still highly relavent!). In it I propose that for many triathletes and runners, running a marathon on the forefoot is unsustainable and that they’d be best focusing on becoming a ‘better’ heel striker.

      Perhaps working on a light heel strike, closer to under your hips, with great posture (hold your hips high as you run), will help you.

      Cheers,

      James

  • Hi,

    I am new to running. I was told that I forefoot run naturally. I have been running for a few weeks (about 5k in 30 mins so not fast) and my calves are causing me a lot of problems. I am doing a lot of stretches and anything I can to alleviate this but they are very tight and painful. (This is something that existed before in everyday life a bit but until I never realised the cause now I think I walk and run strangely causing excessive strain on my calves).

    I am really struggling to change the way I run, because I am so new to running (haven’t done anything for 10 years) so I don’t really know what is right and what is wrong, and anything other than my natural way feels incredibly strange, uneven and I can only do it for about 3 minutes.

    Is there anything I can do to try and help this as I am training for a half and then full marathon, or should I try and seek some professional advice.

    I was told by a friend that I could forefoot run just because I have tight calves in life, not because its my natural running techique – could that be right? If so, what can I do about this.

    Sorry, not sure this message makes much sense, but in short, I am literally brand new to running and my calves are a big problem, the rest of my body could run much much further if it wasn’t for them causing pain from the outset. Other than stretching is there anything I can do about this.

    thanks!

    • Hi Harriot,

      Sounds like you’d really benefit from getting some professional feedback on your running. If you can find somebody who can video you, it will be easy to assess how your foot is striking the ground, and help you identify key areas to work on.

      In the meantime, there are a couple of things I’d suggest you consider:

      Dynamic Calf Warm-Up For Running

      Work on hip mobility, poor motion at the hip can lead to increased stress on the calves as you run.

      I’m a habitual mid-to-forefoot runner and used to suffer from chronic calf tightness as I increased my milage. I worked on landing my foot much flatter so that the balls of my feet still contact fist, then my heel also lowers to the ground during midstance. This really helped me: my claves are no longer a problem.

      Often runners need to progress their milage slowly when starting out with a forefoot technique, to give the calves a chance to adapt. This free program will provide some structure to your progress.

      Cheers,

      James

  • Hi.
    Thanks for all the great info on this website. You have really helped me transition from heal to mid foot strike. You mentioned in reply to jim a few posts ago that you would recommend marathon runners to become better heal strikers rather than mid or forefoot strikers. Why is this? I am training for 2 marathons this year. These will be the first since changing from a heal striker. I am currently getting sore calves but its manageable so far. I really don’t want to undo all the good work I’ve done by resorting back to a heal strike to run long distances. Help!?

    • Hi Hattie,

      I think the key piece of information that gets overlooked is the way in which many marathon runners who start the race off as midfoot runners, revert to a heel strike as fatigue kicks in in the second half of the race. Often a combination of lacking strength endurance in the plantarflexors and a drop in running cadence leading to an increased tendency to overstride. Here’s Pete Larson’s post on RunBlogger.com describing his research showing exactly this at the New Hampshire Marathon.

      Here’s a post you should read about the importance of learning to heel strike ‘well’ as a marathon runner. The post is aimed at Ironman athletes, but is equally valid for marathon runners.

      It’s of course worth noting that all runners will change foot strike across varied speeds, gradients, and when fatigue kicks in. It’s how you manage this that becomes important!

  • Thank you SO MUCH for this information. I changed my foot strike last week after experiencing knee pain. I think my heel strike, which comes more natural for me, was causing too much stress. I was very happy with the change (no more knee pain and faster time, no added effort)… until the next day! I definitely over-worked my calf muscles. Too much, too fast.

    I am going to try to pay attention to ensuring a neutral foot when striking, and also strengthening my ankles and hips joints. This webpage is exactly the information I needed! I’m going to grab a tennis ball and attend to my aching calves and keep gradually working on the new foot strike until I get it! Thanks again!

  • [...] looked up this calf pain and I found a fantastic website that explains this experience perfectly, and how to train for this new foot strike properly so you [...]

  • Running for 35 yrs (4:33 mile, 15:54 5k, Pike’s Peak Marathon, etc.)…calf muscle cramping issues for the last 8 yrs…switched to mostly cycling…read about natural running, and found many similarities to cycling form and cadence and my natural (favorite) stride when running sub 7 min miles…started running with natural form and low heel-toe drop shoes…MASSIVE calf cramping issues…low drop puts extra strain (stretch length during stride) on calf muscle…switched back to a 10-12 mm drop shoe and calf muscles feel much better…natural running style relieved many other issues: knee, hip, and back pain from impact of heel strike

    Calf muscle cramping issue fixes: roller massage stick, arnica, endurolytes, higher drop shoes, building up mileage (long run and weekly total) slowly, and running slowly

    Find your cure(s) and get back out there…natural running – it’s not about the shoes

  • I used to get calf pain when I switched to the asics hyperspeeds from a heel striking trainer but now they are the only trainer I wear. Your muscles adjust after a certain amount of time without doubt. Now I can’t run in the heel strike trainers. Great article now I understand what the pain was!

  • Aside from the normal calf pain of switching to forefoot, I’m also having almost a burning feeling under my toes. I don’t know if that is because of water/sweat(because the pain seems to go away when I take my shoes and socks off), or maybe shoes I’m wearing( Nike free 3.0s), or am I just running to much on my toes?

  • It also wouldn’t hurt to say that lately I’ve been running on concrete( the kind with rocks sticking out), and I’m thinking of trying out the newton distance shoes. Would this help me with the pains?

  • While I am convinced of the advantages of forefoot/mid-foot running in principle, it can be a hard transition. Being in my late 50′s is not helping, I’m sure. After switching, my calves got sore as advertized, especially the left. Then after about two weeks, I suffered a muscle tear in the left calf. A first for me, but I felt it fail and it was clear immediately what had happened. That took me out of action for awhile. I slowly restarted, but have not gotten completely past the left calf being an issue. One thing I’ve concluded is that zero-drop shoes are dangerous. I rotate my shoes, but I’ve found that running in “traditional” running shoes (with about 1 cm drop), but still fore/mid-foot striking is MUCH less stressful for the calves and the Achilles tendons than zero-drop shoes. But now that I’m getting my conditioning back from the injury, and my speeds are increasing, I’m now experiencing a new set of problems. Blisters or near-blisters on balls of my feet and toes from the different wear pattern. This is not a completely new problem since I switched, but it really increases with running pace and with speedwork. I assume this is just a matter of toughening up the skin, but it part of the transition that never seems to be mentioned in these sorts of articles. Anyway, as I look back, I’m not sure I would not have been better off staying with my old running form. I’ve lost lots of miles and lots of fitness from the side-effects of the transition, and making it up has not been going very well so far.

  • I have a question about the “transition” and doing it progressively: Should I shorten my distance and stay with the new gait (midfoot strike) or go back and forth in order to maintain the distances I am used to? I like running trails and I like doing a 10-14 miler on the weekends and 2-3 shorter runs during the week. I naively started forefoot striking and going the same distances and now my calves are very sore. I had to stop at 2.8 miles today due to soreness, although I still had loads of energy, which is frustrating. The was no immediate pang of pain which I have experienced before with a calf tear, but I could feel one coming. Thanks in advance!

  • I’ve had nearly all possible running injuries over the last 12 months, while trying to increase my distance. Left calf went twice, left hamstring, right hip flexor (several times), lower back (several times), and right hamstring.
    I decided to pay for professional technique training…
    The guy I saw last week is a certified chi running instructor but the principles I was told are just ‘good running form’, i.e. land with mid foot under the hips, lifting legs backwardwards rather than driving forward, keep tall and straight, and lean forward to cause motion rather than push off. I was told my form was not too bad, but I had some heel striking to overcome and need to stop bending at the hips.
    Just the 1 to 1 session running round a track caused my right calf to over strain. Since then my calf has not repaired, and now have overstrain pain tops of my hips due to trying to run with the change too far too soon I guess.
    As mentioned, when you adapt a new running style you need to keep the distance real low and build slowly back up again, which I’ve definately learnt.

    • Hi Andy,

      Unfortunately your story is a common one.

      I often say that “perfect running form” is enough to break some runners! By that I mean that in modifying a runner’s technique, we need to be respectful of the specifics of their individual body – rather than just trying to squeeze them into a predetermined ideal of “perfect” (as your instructor seems to have tried to).

      There is nothing wrong with heel striking.

      My preference would be for you to work on hip mobility and posture as a primary focus, and let the foot land as it chooses subconsciously.

      Try this hip flexor stretch multiple times daily for the next six weeks:

      This is an excellent drill to warm your calves up for running, and to manage tightness:

  • James, thank you for your concern and great knowledge as it relates to this matter. I am a little nervous and would love your feedback. Wanting to focus on forefoot running, I ended up doing an entire tempo run (although short/4 miles) with forfoot striking. Needless to say I am in deep pain… I ran another 8 the day after (still lots of pain after). Well, I am less than 3 weeks away from Boston and have my 22 mile hill run scheduled for tomorrow. Should i keep run as scheduled? Re-schedule? Will I do permanent damage by running on this calve pain?

    thanks… I hope you have a free moment to reply.

    • The 1st time I ran forefoot I went out and ran 4 miles. I couldn’t walk for a week after that. After reading more on the subject I learned you must start all over from stage 1. The 1st time you ran did you go out and run 5 miles? Probably not. I ran 1/2 mile practicing the technique 3x the 1st week. I used the elliptical and bike at the gym to keep in cardio shape. 2nd week and each week thereafter I increased by 10%. I’m up to 6 miles now. And I have no knee pain and no calf pain. It’s a long process and not worth the injury. Take your time and don’t rush it and focus on the technique. It 100% worth it. My knees don’t swell anymore!

  • Hi,
    Dear James, i would like to thank you for this informative info and tips.

    Ever since i read “Born to run” by Christopher mcDoughall, i switched to forefoot running, about a month ago.
    and i found it hard at first considering the pain i felt in my calves….but now i’m my calves are stronger and getting more hang of it, not to mention it feels more natural.

    your Articles has taught good tips i didn’t notice before, but I’m curious about your thoughts about five finger running shoes.

    thank you
    Thank you

  • I observed my 1 1/2 year old son run tonight. It’s forefoot striking.

  • My doctor recommended a golf ball muscle roller which i use before and after i run, wow what a difference!! Everyone runner needs one,night and day difference! http://zzathletics.com/Golf-Ball-Muscle-Roller-Massager-GBMR1.htm

  • Learning to forefoot strike helped me get out of knee pain while running. I used to joke that I would only run if I were chased by a bear–because heel-striking resulted in major knee issues for me so I stopped. Later, after reading Born to Run I was inspired and thought… maybe there’s a better way. I finally ran a race after learning how to forefoot strike–and I still feel like I’m getting better at it gradually.

    It takes TIME to change a gait, a running style. Hearing so many of these comments bashing forefoot running because they LEAPT into it… not surprised. Also on pavement in thin shoes it can really be punishing if you try to go long and hard on the forefoot after being a life-long heel striker.

    My rule is this: on the trail and on soft terrain I can wear my minimalist shoes and go barefoot on the beach. On pavement: some padding is important. Whenever I get into my minimalist shoes (even on the trail) I slow the pace, shorten my stride, and on the downhill–ease up. Without socks blisters are more likely anyway. But the pay-off is huge. I can actually RUN AGAIN!!!
    I only notice the knee pain when I start slamming away on the pavement in cushioned shoes and I realize that my legs have gotten too far out in front of me and I’ve lost connection with my form.

    Later when I became a Pilates Teacher I learned that gait, posture, is EVERYTHING. Your physical organization is the groundwork for all of what you do. How you sit in the car affects your hips too…. And it doesn’t change overnight. This process for me becoming a forefoot runner has taken TWO YEARS. And it’s still refining. But it’s better. I thought I was done with running. Not the case! Now, I even play tennis and there’s no knee pain.
    :) Evelyn
    FYI: the right Pilates teacher can also help with hip strengthening, core strengthening, and overall “organization”! Pilates AND changing my strike were the perfect combo.

Leave a comment. Ask us a question...