Does Foot Strike Really Matter in Running? YES!

In running, foot strike really matters because studies (references below article) have shown that how you land on your foot directly alters your entire body mechanics, upper body position included. More specifically, foot strike pattern directly influences the position of your center mass (upper body) of which the position of your center mass is everything in running! The wrong position makes it more economically challenging and dangerous to run.

As mentioned above, the center mass in running is the head and the torso, shown below:

Where is your center of mass
Center mass in running involves the head and the torso.

A more scientifically-correct definition of the center mass is:

  • The center of mass is an imaginary point at which the total body mass is concentrated, and it is a general descriptor of whole body mass movement.

The position of your upper body during running significantly influences kinematics, mechanical work, impact production, metabolic energy expenditure whereby heel strike running and forefoot strike running involves different center of mass positions:

  • Heel strike runners have a more posterior (backward; shown below) center mass position whereby the runner’s torso is kept farther behind initial foot strike position which was found to be a main source of stress because it results in excessive braking, compressive loading,  and is ultimately why heel strike runners have the highest prevalence of every injury. These are the normal accompaniments of heel strike running as compared with forefoot running.
  • Landing with a forefoot strike (shown below) causes the knee-joint to automatically bend at landing, which actually pulls the center mass slightly forward, thereby closing the distance between initial foot strike position and the center of mass. This plays a powerful part in both injury prevention and improved running economy because it increases forward momentum with less muscle effort, while fully preventing many impact forces and a number of physical stressors from reaching injury-predisposing levels.
How to Fix Lower Back Pain From Running: Fix Your Foot Strike!
A big mechanical cost of heel striking (above left) is it pushes your center mass (upper body) too far back behind initial foot strike position, which is the root of many injuries because this postural arrangement causes the foot to land too far ahead of the upper body. This causes the leg, namely the knee to work harder to assist in pulling the entire center mass through and over an abnormally longer stride as compared with forefoot running (above left). Landing with a forefoot strike pushes your center mass forward closer to initial foot strike position, resulting in a significantly shorter stride which was found to be the anecdote for stopping the inflow of high braking and compressive loading, while reducing mechanical efforts from the knee to accelerate the center mass forward.

All in all, when it comes to the importance of foot strike in running, the research concludes that foot strike is fundamentally important because it controls the trajectory of your leg swing mechanics and upper body posture. Heel strike running does little to improve the positioning of your upper body, while misguiding the placement of your initial foot strike position, causing too much over-reach of the foot ahead of the body, producing a burst in collisional impact and braking (shown below) that underlies most injuries. 

Does Foot Strike Matter When Running?

The biggest piece of proof that demonstrates foot strike is critical to running  safely show that landing with a forefoot strike has a tremendous role to play in maintaining a safer and more functional alignment of your upper body and initial foot strike position, and is therefore, the most reliable way to help you manage your entire biomechanics. Need more convincing that forefoot running is better than heel strike running? Here are over 30 reasons why heel strike running is bad!

If you’ve enjoyed my post, you’ll LOVE my YouTube channel, here, where I show why forefoot running is better than heel strike running by every measure!

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Annoni et al. The effect of high-heeled shoes on overground gait kinematics in young healthy women. Sports Sci Health, 2014; 10:149-157.

Lormier, AV and Hume, PA. Achilles tendon injury risk factors associated with running. Sports Med, 2014; 44(10):1459-72.

Schuber, AG., Kempf, J and Heiderscheit, BC. Influence of stride frequency and length on running mechanics: a systematic review. Sports Health, 2014; 6(3):210-18.

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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