The discussion about the correct foot strike pattern creates a lot of confusion among runners. Far too often, runners read an ill-informed article defining running with a midfoot or forefoot strike as the universal solution to unlocking your injury-free, most efficient form.
If you are among the heel-striking team questioning your biomechanical effectiveness, this article is for you. Is heel striking bad and what is the optimal foot strike? Read on to find out.
What Foot Strikes Are Possible?
Foot strike describes the way your foot makes contact with the ground. There are only a few types of strike techniques that a runner can choose from:
- Heel strike. With this type of strike, the heel or rearfoot lands first. This is the easiest and most natural way to run. It is more common among beginners, as it requires the least amount of strength.
- Midfoot strike. Also known as neutral landing, a midfoot strike requires more athleticism, strength, and skill than a heel-first strike pattern.
- Forefoot strike. When runners land on their forefeet first, they have a forefoot striking pattern, which requires the most strength and skill.
Of course, personal biomechanics play a big role in your running form and the way your foot is striking the ground. Some runners find it easier to run with forefoot strike patterns than others, while others struggle considerably.
Why Heel Striking is NOT Bad
More common among beginners, heel or rearfoot strike pattern has an undeserved reputation for impeding athletic performance and increasing running injury rates. The truth is, heel striking is not a bad running technique, and there is no need to worry too much about how your foot lands on the ground.
In fact, a large athletics biomechanics study has concluded that “there is no one optimal foot-strike pattern with regard to performance and athletes should not be overly encouraged to alter what comes naturally to them.”
If you observe some of the elite runners, you are likely to see that there is no uniform foot strike pattern that they adhere to. For example, Galen Rupp has a forefoot strike, while Meb Keflezighi has a mild heel strike. Both of these world-class runners have a history of winning major races, but they have completely different foot strikes!
In Search of an Ideal Foot Stike
There is no single “correct” foot strike technique, – instead, there are certain conditions that will determine the optimal foot strike pattern:
- Speed. Speed directly determines how your feet make initial contact with the ground. The vast majority of the fastest runners usually land on their forefoot, as it is the most efficient way: you literally won’t be able to sprint on your heels.
- Terrain. Where you are running will also change your foot striking pattern. For example, when running up the hill, you are more likely to use the forefoot strike. When going back down, aggressive heel striking is more common. Finally, gnarly terrain and trail running will also cause you to run on the balls of your feet to better navigate rocks, roots, turns, and other obstacles you are likely to encounter on trails.
- Fatigue. Because a forefoot strike requires more effort, it will suffer when you become tired. Many times, by the end of a long race, run, or a challenging workout, athletes lose their perfect forefoot strike form. In fact, long-distance runners may choose to conserve energy by heel striking early on in the marathon to prevent ankles and calf muscles from getting tired too soon.
The Bottom Line
If you are still questioning if heel striking is bad, the answer is: NO, heel striking is not bad at all.
In fact, there is no single foot strike technique that is recommended in every possible situation. Factors like how fast you are running, the terrain conditions, and how tired you are will determine the optimal foot strike pattern to follow.
If you are a heel striker looking for a way to improve your running technique and minimize the risk of injury, a customized training plan from Bannister can help you achieve your goals. Sign up today.