Is Forefoot Running Better Than Heel Striking?

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All runners have their own form, stride, and footstrike. While there are some universal guidelines to follow for proper running form, where your feet hit the ground is often a matter of personal preference.

There is no definitive answer for which footstrike is best, but there are arguments both in favor of and against each technique. If your current footstrike is working for you, there is no solid reason to change it. However, if you are experiencing shin splints or other problems, you may want to consider trying a different technique. Here's a closer look at the footstrike debate.

Forefoot Running

If you are a heel striker—the pattern of footstrike favored by the majority of elite runners—you may have heard newer advice that minimalist and barefoot running patterns favor landing on the ball or toes of the foot, also known as the forefoot.

While research in this field is still ongoing, a number of studies report the benefits of landing first on the middle or front of your feet when running and then rolling through the toes.

Proponents of forefoot running claim that this technique enhances forward momentum compared to heel striking and places less stress on the knees. Indeed, some research shows an association between forefoot running and a reduced risk for running-related injuries.

But running on your toes can also lead to bouncing, which is an inefficient way to run. And some studies indicate a potential for repetitive stress injuries to the foot from using this technique.

It's worth noting that traditionally, running shoes had an increased heel-to-toe drop to help guide the foot into striking midfoot. But the rise in minimalist and low heel-to-toe drop shoes means that this design is no longer the standard.

Midfoot Strike

The midfoot strike running pattern lands on the mid-sole of the foot. Proponents of midfoot running say that this technique helps with shock absorption, lessening the impact on the joints.

Compared to heel striking, midfoot running shortens the amount of time the foot is making contact with the ground, which could help to speed up the pace

But this style isn’t appropriate for everyone and may feel uncomfortable and unnatural to some runners. Some research suggests that both midfoot and forefront running can potentially increase the risk of injuries to the ankle, foot, and Achilles tendon.

Heel Striking

The heel striking technique is exactly as it sounds—the heel hits the ground first followed by the mid-sole and toes.

Most runners use a rearfoot strike because it often feels more natural compared to forefoot or midfoot running. Heel striking also stretches and strengthens the calf muscles and ankles.

However, striking with the rear foot can make some runners more prone to overstriding, which can lead to pain or injury in the knees and hips. The ankles and knees absorb most of the impact, which is why it’s important to ensure you’re outfitted with the right footwear. Landing on your heels may also cause more stress in your lower legs, which can lead to shin splints.

Some people argue that heel striking results in a slower pace compared to forefoot or midfoot striking.

How to Change Your Footstrike

Many people think that changing their footstrike may improve their running economy or reduce the risk of running-related injuries. However, research says that these benefits have not been proven.

For instance, a 2017 review published in the Journal of Sport and Health Science determined that switching to a midfoot or forefoot strike did not have a significant effect on improving running speed or efficiency, lessening the impact of foot-ground contact, or reducing the risk of injury.

So if your current footstrike hasn't resulted in any injuries or poor performance, then there's probably no reason to change it. However, if you are forefoot running or heel striking, you may be interested in giving a midfoot strike a try. While you can't change your footstrike overnight, here are some tips to help you gradually make the shift.

Find Your Footstrike Pattern

To determine what type of foot striker you are, it's best to take a video of yourself running, as one study found that only 68% of runners were able to accurately report their footstrike pattern.

Research studies at marathons have found that the majority of shoe-wearing runners are heel-strikers. Meanwhile, numerous studies suggest that barefoot runners tend to strike with the forefoot to prevent injury, while other research states that some traditional barefoot runners were actually rearfoot strikers. Your footstrike pattern is unique to you.

Focus on Your Stride

Be careful that you're not overstriding. Make sure that you don't lunge forward with your feet. Focus on landing on the mid-sole of your foot, with your foot directly underneath your body with every step. A short, low arm swing is the key to keeping your stride short and close to the ground.

Practice Barefoot Running

Many people will naturally land mid-sole when running barefoot. Practice running on carpet, grass, or turf with no shoes for short periods of time, so your body can find its natural stride. Start with 30 seconds at first and work your way up to a minute or more.

Don't run barefoot all the time as it could lead to injury. But running short intervals on a soft, safe surface allows you to practice midfoot landing.

Try Drills

Running drills such as butt kicks, skipping, high knees, running backward, or side shuffles are another great way to practice midfoot landing. When you do any of those drills, it’s impossible to land on your heels. So, the more you practice them, the more you’ll be accustomed to landing on the front part of your foot as opposed to your heel.

You can do running drills as part of your pre-run warm-up or work them into your run. For example, you could intersperse 30-second intervals of high knees or backward running every 4–5 minutes during a 30-minute run.

Experiment During Short Runs

Practice changing your footstrike during shorter runs at first, and then work your way up to doing it during longer runs. Remember to be patient with your progress, as it could take months of practice before you're able to run that way consistently.

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