Forefoot strike running: Do you have enough calf muscle endurance to do it without a cost ?

Below you will find an article on footwear and running. Rice et al concluded that 

“ When running in a standard shoe, peak resultant and component instantaneous loadrates were similar between footstrike patterns. However, loadrates were lower when running in minimal shoes with a FFS (forefoot strike), compared with running in standard shoes with either foot strike. Therefore, it appears that footwear alters the loadrates during running, even with similar foot strike patterns.

They concluded that footwear alters the load rates during running. No brain surgery here. But that is not the point I want to discuss today. Foot strike matters. Shoes matter. And pairing the foot type and your strike patterns of mental choice, or out of natural choice, is critical. For example, you are not likely (hopefully) to choose a HOKA shoe if you are a forefoot striker. The problem is, novice runners are not likely to have a clue about this, especially if they are fashonistas about their reasoning behind shoe purchases. Most serious runners do not care about the look/color of the shoe. This is serious business to them and they know it is just a 2-3 months in the shoe, depending on their mileage. But, pairing the foot type, foot strike pattern and shoe anatomy is a bit of a science and an art. I will just mention our National Shoe Fit Certification program here if you want to get deeper into that science and art. (Beware, this is not a course for the feint of heart.)

However, I just wanted to approach a theoretical topic today, playing off of the “Forefoot strike” methodology mentioned in the article today.  I see this often in my practice, I know Ivo does as well. The issue can be one of insufficient endurance and top end strength (top end ankle plantar flexion) of the posterior mechanism, the gastrocsoleus-achilles complex. If your calf complex starts to fatigue and you are forefoot striker, the heel will begin to drop, and sometimes abruptly right after forefoot load. The posterior compartment is a great spring loading mechanism and can be used effectively in many runners, the question is, if you fatigue your’s beyond what is safe and effective are you going to pay a price ? This heel drop can put a sudden unexpected and possibly excessive load into the posterior compartment and achilles. This act will move you into more relative dorsiflexion, this will also likely start abrupt loading the calf-achilles eccentrically. IF you have not trained this compartment for eccentric loads, your achilles may begin to call you out angrily. Can you control the heel decent sufficiently to use the stored energy efficiently and effectively? Or will you be a casualty?  This drop if uncontrolled or excessive may also start to cause some heel counter slippage at the back of the shoe, friction is never a good thing between skin and shoe. This may cause some insertional tendonitis or achilles proper hypertrophy or adaptive thickening. This may cause some knee extension when the knee should not be extending. This may cause some pelvis drop, a lateral foot weight bear shift and supination tendencies, some patellofemoral compression, anterior meniscofemoral compression/impingement, altered arm swing etc.  You catch my drift. Simply put, an endurance challenged posterior compartment, one that may not express its problem until the latter miles, is something to be aware of. 

Imagine being a forefoot striker and 6 miles into a run your calf starts to fatigue. That forefoot strike now becomes a potential liability. We like, when possible, a mid foot strike. This avoids heel strike, avoids the problems above, and is still a highly effective running strike pattern. Think about this, if you are a forefoot striker and yet you still feel your heel touch down each step after the forefoot load, you may be experiencing some of the things I mentioned above on a low level. And, you momentarily moved backwards when you are trying to run forwards. Why not just make a subtle change towards mid foot strike, when that heel touches down after your forefoot strike, you are essentially there anyways. Think about it.

Shawn Allen, one of The Gait Guys

Footwear Matters: Influence of Footwear and Foot Strike on Loadrates During Running. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise:
Rice, Hannah M.; Jamison, Steve T.; Davis, Irene S.

Podcast 101: Physics of falling & running.

Podcast 101: Physics of Falling & Running
Plus: calf strengthening problems, odometer neurons help you find your way, Chi running and more !

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Show Notes:

‘Odometer neurons’ encode distance traveled and elapsed time

Snap on shoe

Physics of falling/running

Foot strike and (pre)positioning ?

Non-local fatigue

Chi running, less injuries?  

CAlf strength screen? screen

Trade Secret: Proper Calf Raise

We are selling off part of the farm here today in giving this one away.  This is an exercise we prescribe frequently.

When we rise up onto the ball of the foot, most clients and patients tend to come up and either be flush on the forefoot bipod or even a little more onto the lateral aspect of the forefoot. When asked, rarely do we hear that they have a majority of pressure over the medial half of the forefoot. This posturing tendency can lead to inversion sprains. Imagine for a minute a basketball or volleyball player, or any sport for that matter, because most involve the foot leaving the ground and returning to it.  When the foot returns to the ground, if the foot is even a slightly bit inverted (meaning they are even slightly tending towards landing on the outer half of the forefoot) an inversion sprain is at risk. This is particularly so when the lateral gastroc-soleus is weak and the peronei are weak. Forefoot valgus foot types are certainly in the risk category here and so once again we find that knowing your foot types so you can help your clients is need-to-know information.  Back to our jump and to the return to the ground from the jump, you must remember that the metatarsals are shorter and shorter as you move to the lateral foot. This means that if the load is moving laterally because of posterio-lateral compartment weakness as described above, that the sheer design of the shorter lateral metatarsals will continue to press the motion laterally. This is one of the reasons why lateral ankle strains, inversion sprains, are so frequent and repetitive (we have described the other factor in the latency of the peronei after a single inversion sprain in other blog posts here). 

So here we have our calf raise exercise. Squeezing the ball between the ankles on the up (concentric phase) and on the down phase (eccentric) with a nice isometric at the top will force the weight bearing onto the first and second metatarsals (medial forefoot) and drive the lateral compartment to press the motion medially through an isometric instead of depending so much on this compartment to protect the inversion motion through and eccentric.  We find this motor pattern terribly weak in our athletes, especially our jumping sports and certainly after inversion sprains. IF we can provide more strength to hold this medial posture during the return to the ground from a jump we can slow or delay the lateral inversion event risk.  The key to the exercise is to keep the pressure into the ball medially at all times. A wonderful additional benefit to this exercise is that the user will feel the cocontraction of the thigh adductors which further provides a medial stability effort and blends nicely with the lower abdominals.

You can see that in this case we are rehabilitating an achilles tendon repair case on the left leg.