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Running Gait Patterns – Which Works Best?

Running Gait Patterns – Which Works Best?

Whether you’ve just gotten into running, or you’ve been running for years, chances are you’ve wondered about your running form:

    • What does the perfect running form look like?
    • What does the perfect form feel like?
    • How would perfecting your form help increase your performance?

Runners have long debated the best gait pattern to use. In most running circles, the debate has been narrowed down to forefoot and rearfoot running – which we’ll discuss below.

What is the running-gait cycle?

The running gait-cycle can be broken down into 4 key phases:

    • Initial contact: when the foot comes in contact with the ground
    • Toe off: when the runner is pushing off the ground, prior to both legs leaving the ground.
    • Stance phase reversal: when an individual is in unilateral weight bearing and their muscle begin to generate power
    • Swing phase reversal: when your muscles begin to slow your leg down before your foot touches back down on the ground

Although all of these phases are important, Rearfoot and forefoot running are characterized by the foot strike during initial contact.

What are the differences between rearfoot and forefoot running?

Rearfoot Running

Rearfoot running, is characterized by the heel of a runner landing first.

    • It has been demonstrated in literature to result in greater hip and knee forces.
    • This tends to lead to a greater amount of tibial stress injuries, patellar femoral syndrome and IT band syndrome as compare to forefoot running.
    • This is due to a decrease in shock absorption from the Achilles tendon as well as the intrinsic muscles of the foot, an increase in ground reaction force, and a tendency to land with their foot in front of their body (Davis et al, Milner et al, Pohl et al.)

Forefoot Running

On the other hand, forefoot running, is characterized by the front of a runner’s foot contacting the ground first.

    • It has been demonstrated in research that this leads to a decrease in hip and knee forces but an increase in Achilles tendon and foot intrinsic forces.
    • This tends to lead to a greater amount of Achilles and plantar fasciitis.
    • This is due to an increase shock absorption demand by the Achilles tendon and plantar fascia.

Which is better: rearfoot or forefoot running?

As is seen, forefoot and rearfoot running can both lead to different types of injuries, so with that in mind, a runner can choose either form of running depending on their current injuries. There are however some mild running adaptations that can be made in order to decrease injuries regardless of what gait pattern a runner chooses.

These adaptations include:

    • Running at a cadence of 180-190 strides per minutes
    • Leading with their chest
    • Actively attempting to run quietly

All of these adjustments have been shown to decrease ground reaction forces, improve efficiency and decrease running injuries.


As little as two weeks of gait training has been shown to decrease injury rate by 50% in a 12-month period.  If you would like professional help with your running form in order to decrease your risk of injury, stop by your local Coury and Buehler Physical Therapy. A physical therapist will be glad to assist you!


Video Demo of Running Gait Patterns

R Willy W, Scholz JP, Davis IS. Mirror gait retraining for the treatment of patellofemoral pain in female runners. Clinical Biomechanics. 2012;27(10):1045-51.
Milner, C. E., Ferber, R., Pollard, C. D., Hamill, J. O. S. E. P. H., & Davis, I. S. (2006). Biomechanical factors associated with tibial stress fracture in female runners. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 38(2), 323-328.
Pohl, M. B., Hamill, J., & Davis, I. S. (2009). Biomechanical and anatomic factors associated with a history of plantar fasciitis in female runners. Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine, 19(5), 372-376.

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Jacob Castersen, PT, DPT
Jacob enjoys both playing and watching sports, especially basketball and soccer. He loves spending time with loved ones, cooking and exploring the outdoors. Jacob also has a passion for traveling and would one day like to visit every continent.
Jacob Castersen, PT, DPT

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