Heel Running Shoes Are Making Us Heel Strike, Hard and Painfully

Although there are very few exceptions, barefoot runners and most minimalist shoe runners run with a forefoot strike whereas most runners who wear thick heel running shoes strike the ground on their heel.

Barefoot running populations such as Ethiopia have a much higher proportion of forefoot strikers compared to shod (shoe) running populations where heel striking is the predominant foot strike.

Therefore, if you want to jump the gun and directly conclude that shoes alter foot strike in runners, go ahead, because chances are you are correct.

Heel Running Shoes Are Making Us Heel Strike, Hard and Painfully

According to Lieberman et al., most conventional running shoes have a thick padded elevated heel which holds the foot in a fixed position that facilitates heel strike when running.

  • in a thick heeled running shoe, the orientation of the sole of the foot is roughly 5⁰ less dorsiflexion than the sole of the shoe (shown below)
how running shoes cause heel strike in runners
How heeled running shoes encourage a heel strike over a forefoot strike when running.

Basically,  in a running shoe with a raised heel where the foot rests on an angle thus the heel is higher relative to the forefoot, the likelihood of heel striking over forefoot striking increases.

Thus, running shoes are undoubtedly a good proxy for determining running form and without Dr. Lieberman’s research, we will never properly understand how running shoes change the nature of our biomechanics and how these changes impact our body.

No More Heeled Running Shoes

The first step in reckoning why you are heel striking is by examining the heel height of your running shoe.

What type of shoe will work for heel strikers looking to transition to forefoot running? A zero-drop minimalist running shoe.

A flatter shoe is less plantarflexed on the ground (shown below) and facilitate a forefoot strike landing coupled with the right instruction on forefoot running.

foot position in a minimalist shoe
The zero-drop nature of a minimalist running shoe allows the foot to hover parallel over the ground and potentiates a forefoot strike landing.

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References:

Lieberman et al., (2010). Foot Strike Patterns and Collision Forces in Habitually Barefoot Versus Shod Runners. Nature,463(7280):531-2.

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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