We know that heel strike running is the most forceful style of running. We also know that forefoot strike running reduces the forces and loading rates associated with heel strike running. But is midfoot striking bad or good?
In a midfoot strike landing, the heel and the ball of the foot touch the ground nearly at the same time. But usually, the heel or the forefoot will make initial contact without a midfoot striker even knowing it.
Problems arise if the heel accidentally contacts the ground first in a midfoot strike landing in which case the distribution pattern of the center of pressure (COP) is like that of a heel strike landing.
Is Midfoot Striking Safe?
Midfoot striking is safer than heel strike running, but is it safer than forefoot strike running? Again, that depends on the trajectory of the COP over the foot.
In a sense, there are two types of midfoot strike landings which are characterized by the distribution pattern of the COP.
The first type, which is particularly common in habitually shod runners, the COP begins more posteriorly (towards the heel) at touchdown and during the early stance phase of running and ends anteriorly (at the forefoot). This COP distribution pattern is similar to that of a heel strike landing.
The second type, the COP starts at the forefoot and ends at the heel. This trajectory of the COP resembles the COP trajectory of a forefoot strike landing and is often seen in habitual barefoot runners who switch to shod-running later in life (i.e. Ethiopian runners)
Why does the trajectory of the COP travel heel to forefoot in habitually shod runners and not in midfoot strikers who were barefoot runners?
Likewise, most Ethiopian and Kenyan runners ran barefoot during the first 10-15 years of life and adopted a more forefoot strike landing which becomes strongly habituated.
In many cases, when Ethiopian or Kenyan runners become fully shod, the forefoot strike pattern is slightly altered to a more midfoot landing pattern. But, despite adopting a midfoot strike, the trajectory of the COP travels forefoot to heel as in a forefoot strike, and if you are a midfoot striker, this type of midfoot strike is what you want to minimize injury.
Look at the Bottom of Your Shoes to See Where Your COP Begins
Many habitual shod runners are midfoot strikers, but are shocked when they look at the wear pattern on the outsole of their shoe and find that the heel has worn down. This indicates a foot strike where initial contact is made more posteriorly followed by the forefoot slapping the ground last – this is the midfoot strike you don’t want to have. Why?
A COP that begins closer to the heel at foot strike increases the ground reaction force on the area resulting in higher peak knee moments and patellofemoral joint compression forces.
Conversely, Roos et al., found that patellofemoral joint compression force was reduced if at foot strike, the COP was closer to the forefoot and the reduction in joint force reflects a forefoot landing style.
The Take Home Message
Chances are that most midfoot strikers who are habitual shod runners, posses similar biomechanics to a heel strike running style. In this case, midfoot striking may have some injury implications due to the relationship of the location of the COP and knee moments.
Until now, experts assumed that the forefoot and heel contacted the ground simultaneously in a midfoot strike, however this assumption seems doubtful since the cushioned heel of the conventional running shoe worn by most has direct effects on foot strike behavior.
Many midfoot strikers fail to recognize the location of COP at touchdown and don’t believe that midfoot striking has disadvantages, but it certainly does if your midfoot strike closely resembles the COP distribution pattern of a heel strike landing.
The good news is that running in pure minimalist running shoes or running barefoot will help you develop an awareness of the distribution pattern of the COP. To ace running injury-free, you have to understand how your body is interacting with the ground at all times during running.
More on the Disadvantages of Heel Strike Running:
- Runners Knee May Be Caused By Heel Striking, Not Increasing Weekly Mileage
- Heel Striking Found to Alter Posture, Influencing Pain and Injury
- Heel Strikers at Higher Risk of Metatarsal Stress Fractures When Fatigued
- Dangers of Heel Striking in a Minimalist Shoe
Breine et al. Relationship between running speed and initial foot contact patterns. Med Sci Sport Excer, 2014; 46(8):1595-9.
Roos, PE., Barton, N and van Deursen, RWM. Patellofemoral joint compression forces in backward and forward running. J Biomech, 2012; 45:1656-1660.
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.
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