Is Heel Strike Running Bad for Performance?

Heel strike running is the top source of injurious high impacts that can cause your body to invest more energy in tampering-down vibrations from this impact.

During running, your muscles naturally help calm impact (a natural mechanism called muscle tuning) to protect your body. But if impact is too high during running, particularly in heel strike running, your muscles may get tired faster via too much tuning, therefore negatively affecting your run performance.

Is Heel Strike Running Bad for Performance?

Is Heel Strike Running Bad for Performance?

High body vibrations caused by heel striking may negatively affect running performance because more muscular effort is needed to cushion impacts with the ground – more reasons there is less economic gains of heel strike running as compared with forefoot running, a much lighter form of running.

Presumably, soft tissue vibrations delivered in a high, repetitive manner may influence neuromuscular characteristics underlying good running performance. In other words, prolonged exposure to repetitive, whole body vibrations during running may build a stronger, more efficient runner.

However, Roschel et al. (2015) found that good running economy and biomechanics does not emerge from the workings of whole body vibrations.

The researchers examined the effects of whole body vibrations on performance in recreational runners. To add more stimulus for enhanced neuromuscular response, the runners performed resistance training on a whole body vibration platform. The duration of the protocol lasted 6 weeks.

The researchers failed to find a correlation between whole body vibrations and improved running performance. Therefore, whole body vibrations does nothing to improve neuromuscular adaptations that governs better muscle strength and power performance in runners.

As it stands, the human body contains no highly conspicuous characteristics that might use heel strike-induced vibrations in a positive manner. Likewise, research has not been able to discern a parallel between high frequencies in whole body vibrations and performance gains.

  • A study by Friesenbichler et al. (2011) reported more negative than positive effects of heel strike-induced body vibrations in runners whereby increased amplitudes of vibrations reduced motor firing, maximal muscle contraction force, nerve conduction velocity and reduced peripheral blood circulation.

The lack of obvious anatomical correlates to dampening heel strike-induced vibrations jibes with the high injury rate in heel strike runners, suggesting that humans were not built for heel strike running.

Vibrate Less with Forefoot Running

A forefoot strike landing provides mechanical insulation from high impacts, therefore less energy is needed for muscle activation  to dampen tissue vibrations –less impact, less vibrations. This also enables motor nerves to conduct signals more rapidly resulting in better neuronal capacities to move better.

  • Because impact is low in forefoot running, forefoot runners may be better able to control muscle activation to maintain better leg-spring. The result, better running economy.

In all, vibrating may make you stronger, but it certainly won’t make you faster. Vibrating less by adopting a non-heel strike landing may be a more novel solution to poor performance and injury.

More From Run Forefoot:

Improve your forefoot running experience with barefoot running.

Find out why proprioception is everything in running.

Best shoes to wear for forefoot running.

More on why heel strike running causes more injuries than forefoot running.


References:

Friesenbichler et al. Tissue vibration in prolonged running. J Biomech, 2011;44:116-120.

Luo J, McNamara B, and Moran K. The use of vibration training to enhance muscle strength and power. Sports Med 35: 23-41, 2005.

Rittweger J. Vibration as an exercise modality: how it may work, and
what its potential might be. Eur J Appl Physiol 108: 877-904, 2010.

Roschel et al. Effects of strength training associated with whole body vibration training on running economy and vertical stiffness. J Strength Cond, 2015: [1064-8011].

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!

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