If you’ve run in shoes, you’re probably familiar with the classic heel-toe running form. If you see people jogging, running, or playing sports, you’ll usually see the heel hit the ground before the toe does. The truth is that this isn’t the natural way to run. It’s a product of wearing shoes with padded heels, and it actually reduces performance and decreases speed and endurance, because each step requires an excessive amount of work from your thighs. In the next few paragraphs, I’ll explain what the proper running form is, how to do it, and why it works better than heel-toe running.
The first thing to consider is how humans evolved to run. If you try running on pavement or hard dirt without shoes, you’ll realize that your heels will start hurting after just a few steps. The only way to avoid this pain is to get on the balls of your feet, and allow the front part of your foot to hit the ground before your heel. This moves a lot of the pressure from the bottom of your foot to your calf muscle, and allows it to work like a spring, absorbing the shock of the step. If you have the opportunity to run on a clean, flat and hard surface in bare feet, you’ll find that letting the front part of your foot hit the ground allows you to run quickly, while using your heels is almost impossible. It becomes quite apparent after a few tries that humans were meant to run on the balls of their feet.
The next thing to consider is speed. Running heel toe means that you have to ‘jump’ with every step in order to propel yourself forwards. This means that the bulk of the power comes from your thighs, and that a lot of it is wasted in pushing yourself up in to the air. The fact that the bottom of your shoes absorbs so much shock during a run should be enough evidence of wasted energy. If you tilt your body and let your toes come down first, you can gain momentum by pulling across the ground rather than pushing off of it. This makes for a much smoother run, with less vertical movement. This saves energy and keeps your body stable, which will negate the chances of getting shin splints.
If you’re interested in learning how to run on the balls of your feet, consider investing in a pair of shoes designed for ‘toe running,’ but you won’t want to start training with them right away. A good way to condition yourself for proper running form is to run barefoot or in socks on a treadmill. Another good way is to run normally, devoting some sections to running on the balls of your feet. After a good run using this form, your calves will probably be sore for two to four days, but in a few weeks, you’ll have much stronger calf muscles and the ability to run much faster and efficiently.