Heel Striking, Midfoot, and Forefoot Running: Which Is Right?

lower body shot of man running on gravel road near coastline

 Verywell

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.

Heel striking, a footstrike pattern in which your heel hits the ground first, is the topic of some debate. It has been considered poor running form in the past, although many runners naturally strike heel first. Newer research suggests it might not be as bad as once thought.

Is Heel Striking Bad When Running?

It used to be common advice to try to alter your footstrike if you are a heel striker. In the past, research has shown that a midfoot or forefoot strike is more economical (meaning energy demands are lower), impact force is reduced, and there is a reduced risk of injury.

However, a 2021 systematic review of several studies showed there is little evidence in the scientific literature that proves a runner's footstrike pattern has any link to injuries.

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.

How to Know If You’re a Heel Striker

It can be hard to self-assess your own footstrike pattern. The best way to find out is to take a slow-motion video of yourself running. Try to capture several strides and look closely to see where your foot is actually hitting the ground first.

Does Heel Striking Running Slow You Down?

Compared to heel striking, midfoot running shortens the amount of time the foot is making contact with the ground, which could theoretically help to speed up the pace. But overall, there is no scientific evidence to suggest heel striking results in a slower pace.

That said, most marathon and distance runners tend to heel strike, while most sprinters strike with the forefoot.

Heel Striking vs. Mid Foot vs. Forefoot Running

Each type of footstrike has its advantages and drawbacks. The following provides an overview of each different foot striking pattern. Learn more about the pros and cons.

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.

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.

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.

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

Forefoot Running

Proponents of forefoot running claim that this technique enhances forward momentum compared to heel striking and places less stress on the knees.

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.

How to Change Your Footstrike

If your performance or injuries call for a change of footstrike, here are some tips to help you gradually make the shift.

Find Your Footstrike Pattern

To determine what type of footstrike you have, 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.

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.

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 consistently run with a new footstrike pattern.

Other Running Tips

  • Add strength training to your weekly workouts. This can improve your running efficiency and help prevent injury.
  • Use resistance during sprint drills to improve acceleration and speed.
  • Set SMART running goals to identify areas you'd like to improve and map out a route to your progress.
  • Be mindful while you run to focus on good form and pay attention to your footstrike. Staying in the moment will keep your focus on the mile you're running and keep away negative thoughts and emotions.
  • Take rest days to allow your body time to fully recover and reduce the likelihood of injury and burnout. Aim for one full day off per week.

A Word From Verywell

Preventing injury is one of the foremost ways of ensuring you are able to continue a consistent running routine, and finding the appropriate footstrike for you can prevent injury. Of course, you should always talk to a healthcare professional if you are beginning a brand-new running routine to make sure it will be safe and effective for you. Doing the work of determining your footstrike and optimizing your footfall will pay dividends over your running goals.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How can you stop your heels from striking when you run?

    Research suggests that despite the common belief that heel striking is poor running form, you may not need to stop if it's your preferred form. If you determine that heel striking is leading to specific injury for you, however, you can practice drills like butt kicks and high knees, which will force you to land midfoot. It can take a long time to change your natural footstrike, so have patience.

  • Which footstrike form is best when running?

    There is not a single best footstrike form for all people and all types of running. What is best for you depends on whether you run sprints versus marathons, what your natural footstrike pattern is, and what type of footwear you use. There is little scientific evidence to support switching from your natural footstrike form, so the best footstrike for you is likely the one that comes most naturally to you. Of course, there can be injuries or extenuating factors, so speak with a healthcare professional if you have concerns about your natural running form.

  • What is proper running form?

    Focusing on running form is a good way to avoid injuries and optimize your performance. Keep good posture, relax your shoulders, and keep your gaze forward.

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7 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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