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Here is another common question I get asked by email:
How should my feet land when I run?
The answer is, it depends on:
- speed (and stride frequency)
- your body type (and weight!)
The recent explosion in barefoot running and minimalist running shoes has changed the typical heel-toe footstrike. Some refer to it as the heel-to-forefoot drop, the heel-to-toe offset, the heel-to-toe differential, or the heel-to-toe lift.
At a high-level, from MY experience:
- When I run slowly, as in a warm up or easy 20 minute run usually at a pace of 8 minutes per mile (or 5 minutes per kilometer), I run heel-to-toe with regular running shoes or trainers with average padding.
- When I run fast, as in a sprinter’s tempo 100m or in spikes, I run and land on my forefoot. (in fact, the trainer soles on my forefoot wear out faster than my heels)
- If I had to run a fast mile, or do a beer mile, I probably land midfoot
- When I run on the beach, usually on the wet packed sand barefoot, I land midfoot.
What does this mean?
Heel striking has been accused in a large number of running injuries because it sends a large “jolt or shockwave” up through your skeleton that can damage bones and joints over time. (There is no scientific proof for this, to my knowledge)
Changing from cushioned shoes to minimalist shoes or barefoot will most likely change your running style. It will instantly transform you from a heel striker to midfoot/forefoot striker and most likely an increased in cadence (increased stride frequency – taking smaller “choppier” steps)
Traditional running shoes encourage heel-strike landing. Imagine a typical running show with a 1″ heel and a 0.5 inch forefoot padding (i.e. 0.5″ drop). This difference in height creates a forward-leaning slope, designed to reduce stress on the Achilles (which *can* be good) and to help with push-off.
Conversely, a barefoot or minimalist running shoe with a flat, zero heel-to-forefoot drop will allow the runner to land on the midfoot. Cushioning is supplied from the arches which to absorb shock and results in a more natural stride.
This is from Gordon Pirie several decades ago (see Running Fast and Injury Free by Gordon Pirie for more information):
Running equals springing through the air, landing elastically on the forefoot with a flexed knee…
The bottom line is do whatever feels natural.
But whatever you do, focus on where your foot lands in relation to your body, and not the footstrike. The running speed will determine how you land, as seen here:
Image Credits: Derek Hansen
Google images of Usain Bolt, and you’ll see him land directly under his COM (center of mass). For more information on the topic of Hip Height (and Sprinting), click this article. (from 2012)
Lastly, see Foot Strike and Injury Rates in Endurance Runners: A Retrospective Study (376 Kb, PDF)
So I hope I settled the old argument about landing Heel-Toe, Midfoot, or Forefoot?