Striking it right: running and foot strike

THERE’S been a lot of debate about what type of foot strike is more efficient for endurance running. But just how important is it and what difference does it make to your running?

Types of foot strike
With the rise in popularity of barefoot and minimalist running shoes over the past few years, more and more runners are focusing on their feet. There are three main types of foot strike: heel, mid-foot and forefoot.

A heel foot strike, where your heel hits the ground first, is the most common type of foot strike in runners. The problem with heel striking is that it can stop your momentum – the foot lands in front of your body which acts as a brake. Landing on your heel could cause pain or injury, as a result of the hard impact. The heel is unable to take the full impact so much of the force is transmitted through the leg and into the knee and hip.

In a mid-foot strike most of the impact is taken by the forefoot, the ball of your foot. This means that the heel only slightly touches the ground. This is preferred because there is a lower impact when your foot makes contact with the ground.

In a forefoot strike it is the outside edge of the forefoot that hits the ground first. It’s preferred over the heel strike and is the type of foot strike more common with runners who are running at a faster pace. The problem is that it places stress on the calves and Achilles tendon, which could lead to injury.

Foot strike in running

Good running technique
To run efficiently and effectively, try to stay upright with a slight tilt forwards. Your arms should drive backwards with the elbows at ninety degrees. Your upper body should be relaxed with no rotation. Aim for shorter strides rather than long strides where the knee is extended. The foot should land below the waist.

Top tips
If you are heel striking you may be over-striding. To help improve your running, try taking shorter strides, focusing on your cadence (the number of steps per minute). By working on cadence many runners soon notice an improvement in technique and foot strike.

A good tip is to imagine you are floating across the ground, making little impact. Your foot should touch the floor before immediately lifting again. Remember that how you plant your feet depends on lots of other factors including your running shoes, speed and the terrain you are running on.

Changing your foot-strike
Before changing your foot strike, try increasing your running cadence. It’s also worth spending time on strength, conditioning and flexibility. It is possible to change your foot-strike, but it should be done with caution.

Changing from a heel to a forefoot strike will place greater stress on your calves and Achilles tendon. Transition injuries are common, so it’s important to take your time. If you are keen to try barefoot and minimalist running, make sure you introduce any changes gradually. This gives your body time to adapt to the new style and footwear.

It could be helpful to seek advice from a qualified coach, fitness professional or physiotherapist as they will be able to help and advise you on your individual technique and how to develop without risking injury.

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