A new study published by The Journal of Applied Physiology is again being touted as a negative study in the media. Specifically the New York Times Well Blog published its comments advising that runners who adapt a forefoot running pattern are utilizing more oxygen consumption thus resulting in decreased efficiency. The reason being is that when comparing a forefoot strike to a rearfoot strike one does recruit more musculature, specifically the calf, when landing on the forefoot. This is due to the muscles being recruited to gradually lower the heel to the ground and absorb the impact. Although it requires more energy consumption, there is less force generated to the lower extremity as demonstrated by the lack of a transient impact force occurring. Harvard’s Dan Leiberman popularized this several years ago in his ground breaking data published in Nature. Basically the calf musculature, and Achilles’ tendon, will adapt to the stress over time becoming stronger and absorbing the force. So although more energy requiring initially, overtime the adaptation will lead to a more natural gait with an equivalent oxygen consumption if you follow Wolff’s law. Consider the only shock absorption with a heel strike gait pattern is the heel’s fat pad and a cushioned running shoe. With a forefoot strike pattern, the foot’s multiple joints and muscles are acting concomitantly to absorb shock and reduce force to the lower extremity functioning like a spring. Yes, you may be consuming more oxygen to active the musculature, but over time adaptation will occur and negate these energy requirements.
So despite what the media is reporting, by gradually adapting to a forefoot or midfoot strike pattern, a runner can make improvements in shock absorptive capabilities which can reduce injury in the long run.