I strongly feel that your running foot strike is the most important element in injury prevention and performance because it determines impact production, elastic energy usage and injury. And, it is important to always keep in mind that heel striking produces more impact than forefoot striking. There are also 3 factors that influence a runner’s foot/ground interactions: speed, impact and shoes.
3 Factors That Influence Your Running Foot Strike
At faster running speeds, you are more likely to avoid heel strike to help move your body smoothly across the ground. This is why most sprinters and elite distance runners are forefoot strikers, because landing on the forefoot reduces jarring at touchdown and feels better also.
If you watch a barefoot runner in action, you will notice they land on their forefoot, not their heel. Landing on the forefoot when barefoot eliminates a distinct force related to heel striking, known as the impact transient.
- The discovery of the impact transient in heel strike running (shown below) energized scientists to investigate a potential role in running-related injuries.
Now, emerging evidence has confirmed that the heel strike-impact transient is strongly linked to most running injuries. Robins et al. demonstrated that impact moderating behavior depends largely on impact perception in the brain. This also means that our body naturally knows how to adjust foot strike based on perceived impact from plantar proprioceptive input. In other words, we are well-beyond capable of developing a safe foot strike without shoes.
A general rule is that cushioned running shoes with a wedged heel causes a runner to heel strike. Heel strike runners who transition to minimalist footwear often maintain their heel strike, suggesting that blocking sensory information at the foot with even the thinnest piece of rubber, is enough to promote heel strike. However, running without shoes, particularly on a hard surface, has the opposite effect –it encourages a forefoot strike landing.
- Experts believe that a raised heel running shoe configures the foot in a way that makes forefoot running difficult.
Imagine yourself trying to land with a forefoot strike while running in a high-heeled shoe, the heel would get in the way and clip the ground first.
Finally, a long series of studies, conducted by different researchers using different methods, point toward the same basic conclusion: runners who wear thick cushioned heeled footwear heel strike and land with greater force compared to forefoot runners.
The Take Home Message
The gist of it all is that the central nervous system controls foot strike during running and the sure way to give yourself full control over your foot strike is by running barefoot at a slighter faster pace, focusing on landing lightly on your forefoot to ensure impact remains low.
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Achilles Tendon in Forefoot Running – Learn how forefoot runners use the Achilles tendon to their advantage.
Smaller Strides – Learn why shortening your stride during forefoot running takes load off the hips and knees.
Don’t Overthink– Understand why it’s important to avoid the pitfall of obsessing over your mechanics while you run.
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BSc Neurobiology; MSc Biomechanics candidate, ultra minimalist runner & founder of RunForefoot. I was a heel striker, always injured. I was inspired by the great Tirunesh Dibaba to try forefoot running. Now, I'm injury free. This is why I launched Run Forefoot, to advocate the health & performance benefits of forefoot running and to raise awareness on the dangers of heel striking, because the world needs to know.