What is the best foot strike for preventing injuries and improving your performance? The truth is that in most cases this will be slightly different for everyone. Runners come in all different shapes and sizes. Race events will make a difference also. A sprinter will have a different foot strike than a marathon runner. This article will focus mainly on those that run mid to longer distances.
Some runners are actually able to heel strike with no issues. Others land with more of a forefoot strike. We don’t try to force one foot strike pattern on everyone, but we have some general guidelines.
There are generally 3 regions of the foot that we can hit the ground with, each of them have their own extremes of where you can land within each range. Working from the back to the front these regions are the heel, midfoot, and forefoot. Each foot strike pattern generates different forces and stresses different structures of the foot and lower leg.
If you are a heel striker and are not getting injured, then you likely have nothing to worry about. But if you heel strike and get shin splints or heel pain, then you will want to think about changing your striking pattern.
On the other end of the spectrum, running on your forefoot will place a lot of strain on your calf and achilles. We usually advise people to use more of a midfoot strike because it decreases the contact time with the ground and helps with foot turnover. Effectively it allows you to make contact with the ground without falling on your face, but keeps you moving forward efficiently.
Overstriding is when you let your leg get too far out in front of you, which typically results in a heavy heel strike. It was thought that to run faster it would be helpful to get the foot out in front of you and kind of pull yourself forward. What actually happens is that you basically put on the brake every time your foot hits the ground. How do you remedy this?
Increase your cadence. That means take more steps per minute. It seems like it would make you slower, but it’s all about decreasing the amount of time the foot is in contact with the ground. You want to land with the foot directly underneath you as well. This will take stress off the shin bone, decreasing the risk of shin splints and other injuries.
Do What is Comfortable
The goal is to limit injuries and prevent pain, but we don’t want you to force something that does not feel natural. Sometimes that is worse. If you go from one extreme to the other, like switch from a heel strike to a forefoot strike, then it could overload your Achilles tendon. Make small tweaks to your form and experiment with what seems to work.
If you are a runner and you’d like to learn about the most common causes of running injuries and how to prevent them from occurring during your runs (for FREE), you can request a free consultation with a running-expert physical therapist by clicking the link below.