Toe Running: Are There Benefits?

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If you watch elite sprinters you will see that some of them appear to run on their toes. This might leave you to question if  you should try to change your running form. First, you should know that people strike in many different ways. Some runners are heel strikers, meaning the heel of their foot hits the ground first and the entire foot impact the ground as you roll the foot forward. Others have a mid-foot strike which means exactly that:  your foot strikes somewhere in the center of your foot. Still, other people appear to be toe running, which means they impact near the front of the foot.

The most interesting thing about it is that no matter where people strike while running, everyone has an opinion. Some people swear by forefoot striking, others think a mid-foot strike is the best way to go. Interestingly enough most elite marathoners are heel strikers, which most average runners think is a bad thing. Turns out that none of it is really “bad,” it’s all just different.

Is It Better To Run On Your Toes?

If someone comments that you are running on the balls of your feet, you might be a toe striker. Have you ever watched a young child sprinting barefoot across the grass? You may have noticed they are likely toe running.

Many people theorize that those who practice and perfect toe running are less prone to injuries and will run faster because the movement is more natural to the body.

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Landing on the front of your foot absorbs shock more efficiently than a heel strike land. This is because the front of the foot is wider and more able to take that impact.

With traditional heel striking your heel actually puts the brakes on when your foot hits the ground. In forefoot striking, on the other hand, this is considerably different. Since you put either no, or very little, weight on the heel you are able to more quickly transition from one stride to the next. This can result in faster running.

Transitioning to Toe Running

If you’re interested in learning how to run on your toes, one of the keys is to start small. Believe it or not, some experts suggest you just start out by walking around your house. While doing housework or puttering around the house take off your shoes and go barefoot. Make a conscious effort to walk around on your forefoot. Do this for 30 minutes or so.

Another transitional piece could be finding a nice grassy area to walk around. A soccer field, the interior of a track or your yard could work for this purpose. Again, walk for 30 minutes or so with a concentration on landing on your forefoot.

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Once you begin to feel more comfortable doing this, you are ready to try a little running. Best tried while wearing a minimalist shoe, you should start running with a very short distance. Most coaches recommend you try running a short quarter or half-mile your first time out. For your first week or two, this is as far as you should venture into the minimalist shoes and trying toe running.

If you are training for something and want to continue logging miles you should switch your shoes before putting more miles on. While you transition yourself into minimalist shoes with the intention of becoming a forefoot striker, you need to only wear those while toe running. When logging other miles you need to put on your old trainers.

When increasing your minimalist shoe mileage only do so by 10% a week. If you can comfortably run a mile 4 separate times on week, try  1.25 of a mile 5 times the next week. Taking it nice and easy is the only way to go with this.

Easing In With Intervals

Biomechanist Irene David, PhD., is a leading researcher in the running world. She suggests one way to transition is to use walk and run intervals. Going either barefoot or wearing minimalist shoes, she suggests you start much like in the other plan: just walking for 30 minutes.

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After that, walk for 9 minutes and run for 1. Repeat that three times and do that 3-4 times the first week. In her plan you slowly transition, adding one running minute at a time. Once you have gotten to where you are walking 1 minute then running 9 (also 3 times), you are ready for the next step.

You are then ready for 2 x 15 minutes of running with 5 minutes of active recovery between. Once you can do that comfortably, you are ready to add some mileage.

Remember, the standard rules of not increasing by more than 10% each week still apply!

Drills To Help Transition

If you’re trying to transition to forefoot running, there are some drills that will help you. Strengthening your calves, Achilles and forefoot are important steps in the process.

Calf Raises – standing on the edge of a staircase with your toes on the edge and feet hanging over, do calf raises

Toe Raises – sitting in a chair with your feet flat concentrate on keeping your heels glued to the ground and raise your toes up

Grip Towel on Floor With Toes – put a hand towel on the floor and with your bare feet, grip the towel with your toes

Tracing ABCs with Toes – trace the alphabet in the air with your big toe, switch feet

Does Running on Your Toes Make You Run Faster?

Biomechanically faster, most sprinters strike with their toes. However, that does not mean that you will automatically get faster if you switch to toe running.

Should You Switch?

If you’re itching to try something new, it certainly is worth investigating. If you’re interested in taking your running back to the basics, consider reading Born To Run: A Hidden Tribe.

This book discusses barefoot (or nearly barefoot) running as a way to avoid injuries that plague other runners. A fascinating read, you will find yourself completely immersed in the lives of the Tarahumara people who run wearing little more than a thin sandal on their feet.

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