SUMMARY: Are you a runner who now has apprehensions about heel striking? Is it really that bad? Read on to find out what experts have to say about the heel strike pattern and if you should abandon it.
Although some people have been running for years, many are still perplexed on what their feet should do once they hit the ground. The majority of runners hit the ground with their heel first. However, some believe that heel striking means you have a poor form. In the recent years a lot of runners have moved away from heel striking and have adopted a midfoot or forefoot strike in order to minimize impact loads and enhance the return of energy in the Achilles tendon. This in turn makes them faster and more efficient.
Midfoot and forefoot strike patterns have been claimed to be more efficient and less likely to cause injury. However, some studies have not seen a difference in the injury rates between runners who do heel striking and those who have a midfoot strike. Then again, there are still runners who have opted to switch forms – from heel striking to midfoot or forefoot striking. Unfortunately, the switch can lead to long layoffs.
What Experts Have to Say
Experts suggest that runners should not be too eager to abandon a heel strike. An effective foot strike, as they say, depends on speed and surface. As a runner moves faster, they usually move from heel to forefoot. The problem here is that the calf is used as a shock absorber, leading to calf strains and cramps. What is more important is that runners can find ways that work best for them. Starting a marathon with a forefront strike is neither going to be effective nor kind to your calves. A heel strike, which reduces impact, is more economical.
Why Different Strike Patterns Get Different Injuries
The reason why runners with heel strike patterns have different injuries is because they absorb force in various areas. Researchers revealed that runners with a forefoot strike absorb more force at their ankles and less at their knees. As for heel strikers, there is more strain at the knee yet less at the ankles.
Several studies confirmed that the choice of a midfoot or heel strike does not change the force present during contact with the ground; the strike pattern merely transfers the force to other muscles and joints. Midfoot and forefoot strikers absorb the force in their calves and foot arches, whereas heel strikers absorb most of the force in their knees.
How to Improve Your Foot Strike
First of all, you need to avoid excessive heel striking. Don’t jam your heel into the ground. Also, choose your running shoes properly. Pay attention to your posture when running. Those with a hard heel strike should lift their chest and shorten their stride while focusing on letting the foot contact and roll over the surface.
Second, stay away from motion-controlling footwear and insoles, unless it is prescribed. If you like slapping your shoes to the ground, try a different pair of running shoes. Take note if the noise has changed.
Lastly, focus on the stability of your pelvis and muscle control. Keep in mind that your entire body works together when you run.
The Bottom Line
Before you finally switch to a midfoot or forefoot strike, you need to make sure that it has a clinical justification. Those with recurrent knee pain would benefit from a midfoot strike pattern since it significantly reduces knee stress. Conversely, people with a history of forefoot or plantar fascial injuries and Achilles injuries should go for a heel strike pattern. Remember that striking the ground with your heel first is efficient and safe.