By Coach Mark Saroni
Foot strike is a critical aspect of proper running form and technique. It's the moment your foot makes contact with the ground, and there are three main types: heel strike, midfoot strike, and forefoot strike.
Heel strike is the most common foot strike among runners. It involves landing on the heel of the foot first, before rolling the weight forwards onto the flatfoot. The majority of distance runners are heel strikers, which may be attributed to the fact that heel striking is more energy-efficient at slower speeds.
Heel strikers tend to experience more stress on their knees and joints but it is important to note that this doesn't always result in injury.
It’s not as important what part of your foot hits the ground first, but WHERE that foot lands in relation to your center of mass.
Injuries and running inefficiencies tend to crop up when heel strikers overstride. Overstriding is when the foot lands in front of the knee. Think of it as applying the brakes with every step, thus increasing the shock passed to your body at impact. It can compromise performance and is strongly correlated with running injury.
To reduce overstriding, slightly increase your forward lean (from the hips) a few degrees. Overstriders are notorious for running with a slower cadence, so by simply increasing your run tempo to 180 steps per minute, you can correct the over stride.
Midfoot strike involves landing on the ball of the foot first with your weight balanced evenly on top of your hips, knees and ankles.
Midfoot striking can help reduce the impact forces on the joints and improve running efficiency, as it allows for a more natural and efficient movement pattern. Elite runners tend to run with a midfoot strike. Much of this is due simply to the high velocity at which they run. All runners tend to land more midfoot, or at least transition quickly onto a mid/forefoot, as their running velocity increases.
Forefoot strike involves landing on the ball of the foot and toes first. Sprinters tend to run with a forefoot strike because it decreases their ground contact time and increases their spring and speed.
This footstrike however, puts a lot of stress on the calf muscles and Achilles tendon, which can increase the risk of injury for runners, particularly those using this foot strike over long distances.
So, which foot strike is the best? The answer is that it depends on the individual runner. Some runners may find that one foot strike works better for them than others, while others may find that a combination of foot strikes works best.
Changing foot strike can result in injuries so if you are comfortable with your current movement, and have remained injury free, there is no need to go mixing things up. Pay attention to your body and listen to your own unique needs. Every individual will have slight differences in their natural run gait and footstrike.
It's also a good idea to consult with a running coach or physical therapist to get personalized guidance on your foot strike. They can help you assess your running form and make recommendations based on your individual needs while supplementing with strength and stretching to reduce the likelihood of incurring an injury.
As with all endurance sports, time on the road, coupled with strength training and stretching will yield the best results. Strong glutes and core will support your legs as you move and pull stress away from the smaller muscle groups.
One of the best ways to improve upon your run form is through a video form analysis. Check out my virtual form analysis packages here.