Today, we’re going to talk about a topic that’s near and dear to my heart – heel striking. Now, I know what you’re thinking – “isn’t midfoot striking supposed to be better for your body?” And while that may be true for some, I’m here to tell you why I’m proud to be a heel striker.
You see, heel striking has gotten a bit of a bad rap in recent years. It’s often associated with injuries, inefficiency, and poor form. But as a long-time heel striker myself, I can tell you that there’s more to the story than that.
In fact, I believe that heel striking is a perfectly valid and even beneficial way of walking and running – one that deserves a little more respect and appreciation. So buckle up, my friends, and get ready to see heel striking in a whole new light. Let’s dive in!
What is Heel Striking?
Why do runners use heel striking?
Runners heel strike for several reasons. For one, it’s the most natural way of running, and many experienced runners feel that it allows them to keep their momentum going with less impact on their legs and body. Heel striking also helps to absorb shock more efficiently, reducing the risk of injury from repetitive impacts.
Additionally, some studies have suggested that heel striking may be more economical than other running styles.
How can one identify their foot strike?
Having good foot strike technique is an important part of running and it’s not always immediately obvious when something needs to be corrected.
A gait analysis provided by a professional, often from a running specialty store or physical therapist, can provide detailed suggestions for improving your foot strike. This could involve alterations to your movement patterns and the type of shoes you wear.
Having access to multiple video angles when doing this type of analysis can give you far more information than simply filming yourself while running – but with care and attention you may be able to pick out inconsistencies in your foot strike on your own.
In addition, there are now also training sensors available which measure certain aspects of your foot strike in real-time.
For example, Runscribe+ has developed footpods which measure the braking force of each individual foot across different terrain types and speeds.
Seeing higher numbers rather than the more ideal lower ones here can be a sign of troublesome heel striking which needs addressing. All these strategies are potentially helpful when looking for ways to improve your form during a run or race.
What is Midfoot Striking?
Midfoot striking is an alternative form of running that emphasizes landing on the middle of your foot instead of the heel. This type of running style, sometimes referred to as forefoot striking, helps to reduce impact forces and encourages a more efficient stride.
Midfoot striking has become increasingly popular in recent years, especially among distance runners. The benefits associated with this style include a decrease in foot and ankle injuries, improved running economy, and decreased ground contact time.
Is heeling okay when running?
Yes, it is generally ok to heel-strike when running. Heel striking is the most natural way of running and can help to keep your momentum going with less impact on your legs and body. Additionally, some studies have suggested that heel striking may be more economical than other running styles.
Does heel striking while running have any negative effects?
The trend among running experts is to have heel strikers convert to a mid and/or forefoot strike pattern as it is believed to reduce impact loads and enhance the storage of energy in our tendons.
However, there has been research that suggests heel striking might not be as dangerous as was previously thought. It seems that by wearing shoes all this time, we’ve lost the sense of how dangerous it can be to land on our heels – leading many instinctively to do just that.
By reverting to a more natural midfoot strike, runners are hoping to avoid injury and save energy with each step.
Outside’s long reads email newsletter focuses on outdoor-related journalism and storytelling that deals with the possible benefits, or lack thereof, associated with different types of foot strikes when running.
This type of reporting is intended to help those who run determine which method might work best for them individually considering their own physical abilities, needs and goals. The goal is improved efficiency and stride performance so that runners may reach their goals sooner rather than later without sacrificing their health in the process.
1. Kleindienst F, Campe S, Graf E, et al. Differences between fore- and rearfoot strike running patterns based on kinetics and kinematics. XXV ISBS Symposium 2007, Ouro Preto, Brazil.
2. Kleindienst, F.I. (2003). Gradierung funktioneller Sportschuhparameter am Laufschuh. Shaker. Aachen, 234-235.
Why I’m Proud to Be a Heel-Striker
This does not mean:
- I am slow
- I am inefficient
- I am at greater risk for injury
There are so many misconceptions about heel-striking, more formally known as “rearfoot striking,” but the reality is that heel-striking is NOT the devil… The vast majority of recreational runners, close to 90%, are heel-strikers, and around 75% of elite runners.
Non-heel strikers are kind of like left-handed people… they do it because it works for them, and it’s what their body has determined it does the best with… but it’s not “better” or “more efficient” for the rest of humanity.
Heel-striking vs. midfoot or forefoot striking differ mainly in how they set the body up to mitigate forces through the lower extremity. For example, a heel strike tends to place more load through the knee, whereas a forefoot strike tends to place more load through the foot and calf complex.
How about running the economy?
Studies have even shown forefoot running costs more energy and glycogen stores. In other studies, they have tried to transition runners slowly from a rearfoot strike to a forefoot strike, and runners became less efficient. They were not able to bring that efficiency back up over more extended periods.
Is there ever a time and place to fiddle with foot strike?
Yes, but it isn’t nearly as common as one might think. A quick example might be a forefoot striker with persistent Achilles tendinopathy issues.
To allow them to tolerate more running while we build their tendon back up, we might have them transition to more of a rearfoot strike temporarily. Or a heel-striker with medial compartment syndrome might benefit from more of a midfoot/forefoot strike to reduce load to the affected area.
I hope you understand more about a runner’s footstrike and that the way you run is primarily determined by what your body finds best for you, so don’t fight it. Be proud and trust your body. Be skeptical about people who want you to change how you run, ask questions, and make sure their reasoning is sound.
- Warr et al. (2014). Footstrike Patterns Do Not Influence Running Related Overuse Injuries in U.S. Army Soldiers. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 46, 812.
- Hamill et al. (2017). Is Changing Footstrike Pattern Beneficial To Runners? Journal of Sport and Health Science, 6(2), 146-153.
- Gruber et al. (2013). Economy and Rate of Carbohydrate Oxidation During Running with Rearfoot And Forefoot Strike Patterns. Journal of Applied Physiology, 115(2), 194-201.
- Hasegawa et al. (2007). Foot Strike Patterns of Runners at the 15-Km Point During an Elite-Level Half Marathon. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 21(3), 888-893.
- Bowersock CD, Willy RW, DeVita P, Willson JD. Independent effects of step length and foot strike pattern on tibiofemoral joint forces during running. J Sports Sci. 2017 Oct;35(20):2005-2013.
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