If your interest in running extends to more than just a casual plod around the park, you’ve probably come across the term foot strike, whether it’s from a high street gait analysis or a running guide.
At West London Physiotherapy, we put a lot of work into improving the running technique of everyone from marathon hobbyists to trained athletes. Changing their foot strike is often their number one objective, but why is it so important?
Your foot strike refers to the part of your foot that first strikes the ground when you’re running. This can be anywhere from heel to toe, but for simplicity’s sake it’s split into three categories: heel striking, midfoot striking and forefoot striking.
• Your heel hits the ground first – usually ahead of your hip line – then you roll your body weight over the length of your foot before pushing off with your toe.
• This technique has the longest contact time between your foot and the ground, which slows you down and puts more load on your knees.
• Your quad and hip flexors do much of the initial work, followed by your glutes and hamstrings as you push off with your toe.
• Your midfoot or forefoot hits the ground first – ideally in line with your hip – then you kick your leg back to propel yourself forwards.
• Very short contact time with the ground prevents you from slowing down during your stride and puts less load on your knees.
• This technique forces you to move your legs faster to keep pace, and puts more load on your foot joints, calves and Achilles tendon.
Dedicated runners have been discussing the pros and cons of each type of foot strike for years, with a consensus that midfoot/forefoot striking is the technique of choice amongst athletes. Midfoot and forefoot striking are functionally very similar, so which is best comes down to personal preference and comfort.
However, from a physiotherapy perspective, there’s no evidence that one type of footstriking is “healthier” than another. If you’re a heel striker who enjoys running and you don’t feel any pain, there’s no reason to change your technique. The only thing to bear in mind is that different techniques stress different muscle groups.
Where changing your foot strike does become essential is if you want to maximise your running performance and get the best times possible. There’s a limit to how much you can achieve from heel striking, which is why it’s not a technique you’ll spot amongst athletes.
So if midfoot and forefoot striking are the superior running techniques, why do most people strike with their heels?
The answer is shoes. We grow up wearing shoes with plenty of padding, making it easy for us to drag ourselves forward with our heel and roll our whole foot along the ground. If you look at cultures where people use light or no footwear, the opposite is true: without padding it’s too painful to strike with your heel, so you strike with your mid or forefoot and spend as little time on the ground as possible.
That’s why the trend of barefoot running with super lightweight shoes reinvigorated the debate around foot striking, as the lack of padding encourages mid/forefoot striking.
But changing your foot strike isn’t as easy as buying a different pair of shoes. In fact, trying to change your running technique without proper precautions and training is likely to do you far more harm than good – instead of running faster, it’ll be a struggle to run at all.
Click here to read about the mistakes people make when changing their running technique.
If you have any questions about your running technique, feel free to get in touch by emailing email@example.com or calling 0207 937 1628.
Kam Sowman BSc (Physio) MCSP MHCP
Musculoskeletal and Sports Physiotherapist
For any other questions regarding this topic please do not hesitate to contact me at West London Physio on 0207 937 1628 or email firstname.lastname@example.org