The Benefits of Forefoot Walking: A Rethink of Biomechanics

by Dr. James Kao.

Dr. Kao’s blog can be found here:

This summer I reviewed the research on walking and joint pain. The findings will surprise you.

Here’s what I found.

1) Barefoot walking produces significantly lower knee forces and torques than walking in any kind of shoe! Even high-tech walking shoes.

2) Only one type of shoe produces equivalent forces and torques to barefoot walking: Shoes that are ultra light weight and flat.

3) Any kind of ultra light weight and flat shoe produces the same result. High tech materials are not required. The requirement is ultra light weight and flat.

4) Barefoot walking results in zero to 5 degrees of plantarflexion when the foot strikes the ground. This is called a forefoot strike. The heel is slightly elevated when contact is made with the ground. There is no heel strike.

5) Barefoot walking is less efficient than heel-strike walking. This is actually a good result. It means you will burn ”more” calories if you perform barefoot walking.

If you put all of these findings together here’s what you can conclude:

1) If you switch from heel-strike walking to forefoot walking you will reduce joint pain and burn more calories.

2) Wearing any kind of ultra-light and flat shoe produces similar results to barefoot walking.

I’ve been forefoot walking since July. Here is what I can tell you.

1) I am experiencing less knee pain & low back pain.

2) Forefoot walking must be practiced (a lot). If I don’t concentrate on the forefoot landing, I immediately go back to a heel-strike landing. But, after 3 months it’s getting easier!

3) Forefoot walking is ”not” toe walking. Your heel should only be slightly elevated when your foot makes contact with the ground.

4) Forefoot walking feels really, really awkward.

5) When I started forefoot walking, my calf muscles (gastrocnemius and soleus) really ached. I think this contributes to the extra energy expenditure (i.e., burn more calories).