How to Avoid Heel Strike Running

The best recipe to avoid heel strike running is to strictly do the following:

#1. either try running barefoot, or wear flat, minimalist type running shoes.

#2. avoid lifting the forefoot (ankle dorsiflexion) at touchdown.

#3. always keep your knees bent.

Many reports have found that a running shoe with a thick heel facilitates heel strike during running by causing the front of the foot to lift up upon touchdown. This is why so many runners heel strike, because most running shoes out there have a super-thick, padded heel.

Running barefoot, or in minimalist footwear helps reverse the heel strike habit because the lack of heel protection makes it hurt to heel strike when running, and the foot is in a more plantar-flexed position, which encourages a more accurate forefoot strike landing.

How to Avoid Heel Strike When Running
To avoid heel strike when running, the flatter your running shoes, the better. That is why I love running in the Vibram KSO, because the lack of under-heel padding keeps me off my heels!

How to Avoid Heel Strike Running

Many forefoot running learners were heel strikers whereby to heel strike, the forefoot and toes lift back. When learning forefoot running, there is no need to lift the forefoot back because we are not landing on the heel.

A forefoot lift becomes habituated in heel strikers who have a tendency to lift their forefoot while learning forefoot running. As a result, the heel will clip the ground if the forefoot lifts back too far prior to touchdown.

Bending Knees Encourages Forefoot Strike

Bending the knees while running is something I think many runners struggle with. This is because most runners reach out with their swing leg upon touchdown, causing the knee-joint to completely unbend. But this is no good because straightening-out your knee at touchdown allows for over-striding, another mechanical risk factor for causing a heel strike landing.

If you watch most professional distance runners, especially ones from Ethiopia, they have a deep knee bend. Keeping both knees softly bent allows foot strike closer to the body:

  • A bent knee upon foot-strike may shorten stride duration and may encourage a more mid-to-forefoot strike landing.

Although, a slight bend in the knee may make it difficult to heel strike, the trick to eliminate heel contact is to avoid toe-lift upon foot-strike (shown below).

How to Avoid Heel Striking Running
Keep your toes pointed neutral, or downwards, is one of the best ways to avoid landing on your heel when running.

 

Left, shows a runner with a forced toe-lift upon foot-strike which may allow for a heel strike landing pattern.  Right, shows runners with the landing foot in a neutral, or relaxed position (no toe-lift).  In the neutral position, the foot aligns with the ground in a way that facilitates a forefoot strike landing pattern with greater ease.  To optimize forefoot strike mechanics, the knees need to be softly bent at all times.

Toe-Lifting at Foot-Strike May Cause Shin Splints

Another disadvantage of toe-lifting upon foot-strike is the connective tissue surrounding the tibia may become overly strained, resulting in a condition joggers are well acquainted with, shin splints!

To ensure a forefoot strike landing, bend yours knees at an angle that feels comfortable to you, or ‘sink’ into your stride as I call it.

To avoid toe-lift, do not force any movements in your foot and let your forefoot fall to the ground, meanwhile bending the knee’s will take care of over-string and braking.

More to Explore:

Run forefoot because you are faster than you think!

Bretta Riches

Bretta Riches

"I believe the forefoot strike is the engine of endurance running..."

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.
Bretta Riches

P.S. Don't forget to check out the Run Forefoot Facebook Page, it's a terrific place to ask questions about forefoot running, barefoot running and injury. I'm always happy to help!

1 Comment

  1. Clear article, thanks!
    Love from The Netherlands!

    P.s. I guess an image is missing in the article.

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