Which Part of Your Foot You Should Land on When Running

lower body shot of man running on gravel road near coastline


All runners have their own form, stride, and footstrike. There is no definitive answer for which method is best, but there are arguments for 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 something different. Here's a closer look at the footstrike debate.

Where Should Your Feet Hit the Ground?

If your running pattern is to land on the ball or toes of your foot, also known as the forefoot, you may have been told it's better to land mid-sole. 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 patterns favor landing on your 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. You should land mid-sole and then roll through to the front of your toes.

Proponents of this view say that you want to avoid being a heel-striker. If you land on your heels, you are stopping your forward momentum and causing undue stress on your knees.

Landing on your heels may also cause more stress in your lower leg, which can lead to shin splints. But running on your toes can lead to bouncing, which is an inefficient way to run. Traditionally, running shoes had an increased heel-to-toe drop to guide the foot into striking mid-foot. As there has been a move towards minimalist and low heel-to-toe drop shoes, this correction is no longer standard.

How to Change Your Footstrike

So should you change your footstrike? You may think that changing where your foot hits the ground may improve your running economy or reduce your risk of running-related injuries. However, research says that these benefits have not been proven.

But still, you might decide that you want to change your footstrike. You can't change your footstrike overnight, but you can work to gradually work toward landing mid-sole. If you're a heel-striker or toe-striker, here are some tips to try to (gradually) change your footstrike.

Find Your Footstrike Pattern

Research studies at marathons have found that the vast majority of shoe-wearing runners are heel-strikers. Meanwhile, some research claimed that barefoot runners usually strike with the forefoot, while other research says that was incorrect and they also are usually rearfoot strikers. Your footstrike pattern is unique to you.

To determine what type of foot striker you are, it's best to take a video of yourself running, as one study found fewer than half of runners correctly reported 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 balls of your feet, 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

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 mid-foot landing.

Try Drills

Running drills such as butt kicks, skipping, high knees, running backward, or side shuffles are another great way to practice mid-foot 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 to 5 minutes during a 30-minute run.

Experiment During Short Runs

You can practice changing your footstrike during shorter runs at first, and then work your way up to doing it during longer runs. Don't worry if you don't see an improvement overnight. It can take months of practice before you're able to run that way consistently.

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Article Sources
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  2. Hamill J, Gruber AH. Is changing footstrike pattern beneficial to runners?J Sport Health Sci. 2017;6(2):146–153. doi:10.1016/j.jshs.2017.02.004

  3. Davis IS, Rice HM, Wearing SC. Why forefoot striking in minimal shoes might positively change the course of running injuriesJ Sport Health Sci. 2017;6(2):154–161. doi:10.1016/j.jshs.2017.03.013

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