I will be very brief and concise with the intro by stating that this is one of the primary make or break features associated with proper and efficient human movement. Just about everyone who I first encounter in training makes the vital mistake of bearing too much of their mass in the rearfoot when they move and this is bad on a number of levels. Ultimately, injury, hindered acceleration and speed, and frustration result. Below is a standard list of reasons why you should elect to shift that mass to the front or forefoot (balls of your feet). Afterwards, I will include the special cases or circumstances in which I would advise someone to disregard this message and remain and transfer onto the middle or rearfoot while moving just until they remove the limitation and eventually arrive movement to the forefoot.
#1-Promotion of Calf Strength Development and Elasticity:
I really believe this factor is underrated in the athletic world. Bodybuilders do not hesitate or think twice about integrating calf work as a common theme in their training programs, and I encourage athletes of all types to do the same immediately. Not doing so will alter the proper force application angle for sprinting, create a greater total force/impact up the kinetic (body) chain, and raise injury risk at multiple joints while running/sprinting. Bottomline, the calf has to be strong to support the forefoot position and create quicker movement.
#2-Reduced GCT (Ground Contact Time) and Energy loss:
When the heel makes total contact with the training surface and we are carrying the load of our weight in our heel, it will take incrementally longer to remove it from the surface, swing the leg and relocate it forward back on the ground, then if we choose to shift our body mass forward. The three reasons to support this theory are that we lose gravityʼs maximal support, there is a slower reaction or reflex in our movement, and there is more total movement at the lower body that has to occur. All of these factors together will inevitably result in a slower time compared to shifting weight forward, but only if you are ready for this progression. You will notice this technique in any elite sprinter. Through training, the top sprinter has more power, the beginner less. The top sprinter has a higher hip height, the beginner lower hips. And the top sprinter has a shorter ground contact time, and the beginner a more extended ground contact. (Francis,15). Finally, if you try this out yourself you will notice that what Francis is saying here is absolutely true. If you naturally want to become taller, and reduce how much you have to move to provide a mechanical advantage in running, than compare standing on your toes (forefoot) versus standing on your heels (rearfoot).
#3-Increased Hip Extension/Hyperextension:
The glutes and hamstrings dominant a sprint from approximately 20 yards to 100 yards. This is based on joint angles across different phases of a sprint. This is also why the number of hamstring injuries exceed the number of hip flexor and quadricep strains while sprinting. The hamstrings are responsible for the majority of sprinting in an athlete, yet they more times than not cannot support this action because they are weak and have poor tissue density (size). I have had a number of my athletes report to me that they experienced an instant increase in hip and leg drive during their sprints when they opted to shift their weight forward, and their times reflected it. The reasons for this is because a greater degree of muscular force is generated throughout the lower body and into the ground that causes an automatic increase in acceleration and speed. Here is a quote from world-class strength coach veteran Mike Boyle, on the significance of posterior (back) hip involvement in running; “In running speed all of the force production is from hip hyperextension.” I differ with this absolute statement only in that there is still other contribution from surrounding muscle groups and neighboring joints, but it does convey the message that the hips are the primary workhorse in acceleration and speed development!
#4-Reduction of various lower body injuries:
Utilizing the human anatomical model we can draw a distinct link between a number of lower body sprint related injuries and an inability to operate off the forefoot. Examples of underuse injury would include calf strains, and hamstring strains, while overuse injuries would be hamstring strains, quad/hipflexor strains, IT band problems, and various specific knee problems. “When movement is primarily generated by the muscles acting on the knee it tends to promote more rearfoot dominant movement as well as knee pain, hip pain, and a ton of other common problems (Baggett).
The definition of leverage would be a mechanical advantage that is due too being in a better position to move a lever. A lever is a rigid bar, or in the case of the human body, a bone about a joint. Good leverage equals being in this position to move your bones easier, and vice versa. The main regulator of leverage is gravity. As far as running is concerned, you will always be at an advantage in terms of leverage when the body is forward more versus back. The main reasons why leverage is better in this scenario is because the force application angle or the direction of the leg stride when the foot is too far out in front of the hip and body mass (rearfoot dominant), demands that you apply energy primarily downward with a slight effort backwards. Unless you are attempting a vertical jump, this is absolutely counterproductive in your quest for greater acceleration and speed. It’s an equal combination of force being produced both downward and backwards simultaneously while running that accelerates the body forward faster. The second issue here is the center of mass/base of support relationship. When your mass/gravity is too far outside and away from your base of support (the foot balancing the body), you have much poorer leverage then if your mass was closer and inside the foot like in the case of forefoot dominant running.
Now there a few individuals who should reserve forefoot dominant running for later. Obese individuals, beginner/slower athletes, and injured clients should be very conservative and gradual in their approach. Obese people simply cannot support there high amount of mass on a small and disadvantaged ankle. As the weight drops and you feel comfortable, then it might be time to adopt this technique. Slower and or novice athletes will typically be unable to react fast enough with their swing leg to be able to step forward and touch the foot down in enough time to be able support their weight without either lateral stepping, short stepping, or falling. This reduces stride length and proper stride direction which in turn lowers acceleration. This type of runner also looks terribly unbalanced and inefficient. In this case the athlete may need to employ a constant upright stride pattern until they are strong, powerful, and fast enough to lean and angle their mass forward more. Lastly, an athlete or client who has sustained an injury that prevents them from distributing weight on their forefoot while running, may need to alter their running style until they become healthy, or omit high speed activity altogether in the interim.
1-Francis, Charlie. Key Concepts Elite. Structure of Training For Speed. New York, 2008.
2-Boyle, Mike. How to use Sled Training to dramatically improve Speed and Acceleration. No date and time available.
3-Baggett, Kelly. 5 keys to becoming a forefoot dominant athlete. No date and time available.