I'm a beginner runner for years. Usually I've had to stop running after a while because of knee problem or common colds. Because of the first, I've got interested in toe-first technique (referred also as barefoot running technique).

My first attempt hasn't taken long because of very strong calves fatigue. The muscle activity unusual for my body has made it hard for me to concentrate fully on details, but I've noticed I was running quite fast, and my heels were not touching or slightly touching the ground, and it was quite painful for my calves.

What is the proper technique when toe-first running? Should the heel have a solid contact with the ground, or it should only slightly touch it? Or it shouldn't touch it all, so that only the front part of the feet has contact with the ground? It seems to be the most fatiguing for the calves...

  • 1
    I am a toe-runner as well,i am not sure about the hazards but there is a lot of conflicting information on the internet
    – munish
    Aug 20, 2013 at 12:43
  • If you can't keep it off due to fatigue, then it probably won't matter, since you're probably no longer able to maintain the 'ideal' form anyway. Also its a means to an end, not a goal in itself.
    – Ivo Flipse
    Aug 20, 2013 at 14:25
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    Just as an aside, true "toe running" (Where the heel never hits) has really only come about in running circles since the advent of Chi/Pose. After all, if some is good, more is better, right?
    – JohnP
    Aug 20, 2013 at 14:29
  • I'm thankful for this question. I was about to ask the same thing when I realized that I barely ever let my heels touch when running barefoot, and it was leading to some calf fatigue.
    – Sean Duggan
    Mar 15, 2018 at 20:02

3 Answers 3


The technique is known as the "forefoot strike". I encourage you to look at this Harvard study on the subject. The premise is that it is the natural running technique for all cultures who predate Nike. Indigenous peoples who run barefoot or in sandals typically use this technique, and it is believed that we have run that way since we left the trees.

The heel is, in fact, supposed to touch the ground for an instant, having had most of the impact already absorbed by the ball, arch, and all the other parts in between. The key is that the heel is not supposed to be the point of impact as commonly occurs among heel-strikers.

  • That study has a lot of useful data, so kudos for linking that.
    – alesplin
    Aug 20, 2013 at 19:25

I would definitely not recommend landing on your "toes" specifically. When running with what people are calling "barefoot" form, you want to land on the ball of your foot or slightly back from there on the midfoot and allow your foot structure and calf muscles to absorb the impact so that when your heel touches the ground it's not really making an impact with the heel. This allows for a little bit of relaxation in the calf muscles while allowing the stored energy in the achilles tendon to still aid in pushing off and again (importantly) preventing the braking high-impact-force moment of a heel first landing.

Another thing to remember with natural form running is that you want to avoid over-striding and the forward hunch I see a lot of times. You want your foot to land under or at the front edge of your center of gravity, and if you lean forward you want to lean slightly from the ankles, NOT from the waist.

There is not much to be gained, except in a flat out sprint, from never allowing your heel to touch the ground, and it can lead to increased calf muscle fatigue. Much of the reason for contradicting reports regarding injury prevention etc. is that many people try to run too far, too fast, or some combination thereof too soon after switching. So if your calves are getting painfully tired and sore, slow down and decrease your distance until they adapt.


I have always been told I walk on my toes, and when I started running, at the same time, I had been doing a lot of stair climbing (I started doing stair climb races (CN Tower, Empire State Building, Rockfeller Center) and spun running off that idea) and that got me used to toe running as well.

You will find it takes a lot of calf strength and lots of time to develop that strength and endurance in them. Consider a stair machine to practice on, and to build strength with.

Generally the heel does hit; it just does not really look like it, nor is it very long on the ground.

Also you will find the front half of your foot will hurt a lot until you build strength. Look for shoes with more forefoot padding to help with that.

  • I don't fully understand what it means that the heel does hit. Does 'hit' means more like a touch or more like an impact? Aug 20, 2013 at 12:42
  • @ŁukaszLech In this context I think he means the heel making contact with the ground, not necessarily the force.
    – MDMoore313
    Aug 20, 2013 at 15:32
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    @MDMoore313 Right. I mean my heels do hit the ground, but for a short period, fairly lightly. Since they are last on the ground, and off again pretty quick. Though sometimes it looks like they are not even touching the ground it can be so light.
    – geoffc
    Aug 20, 2013 at 16:59
  • @geoffc thanks, it's weird for me because I always run toe first unless I'm going full speed, which is hardly ever unless I'm timing my fastest mile, going hard the last 1/4 mile, etc. I thought I was running wrong, glad to see I'm not after all these years.
    – MDMoore313
    Aug 20, 2013 at 17:08
  • @MDMoore313 Wow there cowboy? Who said it was not 'running wrong'. Hehe. I am just saying I do it too. No doubt there are better ways, but it is very hard to adjust your stride. For me, it took a broken foot and walking in a cast to move me back to more heel striking. I do not recommend this approach.
    – geoffc
    Aug 20, 2013 at 20:28

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