Natural Running

Posted by Nicole Haas PT, DPT, OCS on March 4, 2013

The Starting Line: 

Is there one right way to run naturally?


There is a growing trend in research toward running barefoot and landing on the forefoot as a way to reduce injury. This research indicates that due to the discomfort of landing on a bare heel, the transition to a forefoot strike happens naturally when you kick off your shoes. There is also a growing consensus that running in minimalist shoes - or no shoes at all - and running the "natural way" will allow runners to reduce injuries and pain.

A recent study by the anthropologists Hatala et al. helped shed more light on the concept of what a natural running style would look like. They found that among a group of habitually barefoot Kenyans, the majority ran with a heel strike - not the forefoot strike that earlier research had indicated. The researchers found that 72% of the traditionally barefoot adults landed on their heels while running at a comfortable pace, and only 4% of the runners landed on their forefoot. The reason for the the difference between this study and previous research on traditionally barefoot Kenyans is still unknown. One possible explanation that the researchers tested was the difference in running patterns between sprinting and distance running. Interestingly enough, when the researchers asked the runners to sprint at a faster speed, 43% of the runners continued to heel strike.

The ultimate message of this new research is that more work is necessary to truly understand how running mechanics are impacted by various factors. As more research is conducted, we may learn that there is no such thing as one ‘natural’ way of running that is the same for all runners.


The Finish Line:

While there is evidence that forefoot striking can help prevent some types of injuries, the debate continues on whether it is ‘natural’ or not.


1. Lieberman DE. Foot strike patterns and collision forces in habitually barefoot versus shod runners. Nature 2010; 463: 531-5.

2. Hatala KG, Dingwall HL, Wunderlich RE, Richmond BG. Variation in Foot Strike Patterns during Running among Habitually Barefoot Populations. PLoS ONE 2013; 8(1):e52548.

Photo Credit: Pam loves pie via photopin cc

 *Note: This general information is not intended to be a substitute for medical treatment or advice. Always consult a professional before making changes to your health and wellness practices. 

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