The Lowdown on Toe-Running

by | Updated: December 3rd, 2016 | Read time: 3 minutes

Q: Should I run on my toes?

Brandon Marsh answers:

This is a question that I get asked by many of the triathletes I coach.   Experts are deeply divided on the answer to this question.

Personally, I don’t think there is a 100% “correct” way to run. Watch any marathon, and you’ll observe that the most elite runners propel in ways that seem to defy logic.   Their arms swing like crazy.   Their heads bounce up and down or lean to one side.   The one thing they have in common is that they are fast””very fast.

A couple of really smart guys named Ross Tucker and Jonathan Dugas, both PhDs, have taken an in-depth look at how the best-of-the-best run, and concluded that elite runners are more likely to have a heel strike than a mid-foot (arch) or forefoot (toe) strike.

That being said, it might not make any sense for you to change from running on your toes or mid-foot to becoming a heel-strike runner. In fact, Tucker and Dugas concluded that rapidly trying to change how your foot strikes the ground can many times lead to injury.

But, if you  slowly adapt to a new running style you may find yourself able to change your style without injuring yourself and possibly getting faster along the way. They also note that focusing on where your foot lands relative to your body is important.   In other words, your foot should contact the ground under you as opposed to far out in front of you.

So, if you think that suddenly changing from a heel strike to a more mid/fore-foot strike is going to solve your running woes, then you may be disappointed.

The toe-midfoot-heel debate aside, I do believe that there are certain “rules of thumb” to follow with running form:

–               Keep your arms at about a 90-degree angle while swinging them.   (This may be slightly more or slightly less, depending on what part of the arm you are looking at.)   And, try not to let your arms drift too far across the centerline of your body while they move forward and up. Too much lateral twisting in your torso wastes energy.

–               Run with your head “tall” and look in front of you as you run.   Try not to hold your head/chin too high when running; likewise, try to avoid tucking your chin or staring at your feet.

–               If there is one aspect of your feet to focus on, it would be how often they connect with the ground.   The fastest runners have a stride rate of 90+ per minute.   That means that their right or left foot hits the ground at least 90 times in 60 seconds.   So, if you find yourself hitting the ground only about  75 times per minute, focus a bit on trying to gradually get that number up to 80-85.

Amy Marsh is a four-time Ironman champion, two-time IronDistance champion, and was named the 2010 USAT Long Distance Triathlete of the Year. Brandon Marsh has been competing in triathlons since 1988, and can be counted on to be a top-10 contender in every event he enters. Got a question about swim-bike-run or sports nutrition for Team Marsh? Email them at On Twitter, follow Brandon @BrandonMarshTX and follow Amy @AmyCMarsh.