Heel strike running is a technique that all runners should aspire to learn, being the most efficient and least prone to injury of any natural running technique.
To put it simply, heel strike running is landing toward the front of the foot with a slightly flexed knee and hip, which gives you an instant stretch through your Achilles tendon and a slight pre-stretch through your hamstrings.
forefoot strike running
Forefoot strike running is the other side of the debate. In this technique, you land toward the outside of your foot with a straight knee and hip, which can cause you to over-pronate (land on the inside edge) or be less stable when landing.
By eliminating that slight bend in your knee and hips while landing, you are not pre-stretching your calves and hamstrings, which can cause tightness over time.
Both techniques have their pros and cons, but I believe heel strike running is the better choice for most people. If you are thinking about changing your technique to forefoot strike running, keep reading to find out why I think that’s a bad idea for most people.
Heel strike running Pros
-Efficient: The more time you spend on your forefoot or midfoot while running, the more energy you are wasting by bouncing up and down rather than moving forward.
It takes less energy to run with a heel strike because all of your weight is being rolled from your heel to your toes instead of being expended in the air.
-Reduced impact: A heel strike landing will reduce the impact on your knees and other joints because it is your body’s natural shock absorber.
Because you are not putting as much stress on those joints, they will last longer and stay healthier into old age.
-Less injury prone: The more time you spend on your feet, the more likely you are to be injured. Think about it this way – would you rather have your foot flexed toward the front of your body for 8 hours at work or extended behind you for 8 hours?
-Stable landing: Landing with a straight knee and hip is less stable than landing with a slight bend. You are more likely to sprain or strain something if you land with your knee extended because there is nothing to keep the joint lined up correctly.
-Reduced muscle tightness: By extending through your knee and hip on landing, you stretch out your hamstrings, calves, quads and hips. This reduces muscle tightness because you are keeping those muscles active throughout your run instead of locking them up.
-Less over-pronation: When you land with a slightly bent knee and hip, it causes your body to naturally compensate by reducing the amount of pronation through your foot. That will naturally reduce the amount of strain on your arches.
I have met many runners who have to get custom orthotics and expensive shoes because their over-pronation is so severe, but they were never told to use a slight forward lean when running!
-Faster: If you think about the physics of running, it’s easier for your body to keep moving at that same speed rather than having to push back off your forefoot to continue moving forward. That is why heel strike running is faster than forefoot strike running.
-Easier: It’s also much easier to maintain a consistent speed and rhythm with a heel strike because you are simply rolling from one foot to the other instead of bouncing off your forefoot during each step. This makes it easier to hold a steady pace.
-More Natural: Finally, landing on your heel is the most natural way for your body to absorb shock because it’s what you would do if you were running barefoot over rocky terrain.
It makes sense that our bodies are designed to handle shock better when we land with a slight forward lean because that causes us to land on our heel rather than our forefoot.
Heel striking Cons
-More impact: It’s clear that a heel strike causes more of an impact on your body than a forefoot or midfoot strike.
The more time spent with your full weight being transferred from one leg to another, the more likely you are going to have pain and injuries if you aren’t taking measures to protect yourself .
-Increases muscle tightness: Because you are keeping your body in a tight upright position and flexing your knee on landing, it forces all of the muscles that support the joint to contract throughout your run.
This is why heel strike runners often feel stiff and sore after a run because they’ve spent their entire run contracting those muscles! That’s like doing 100 leg extensions for your quads every run. Talk about tightness!
-Increases chance of injury: I know several runners who have blown out their calf or hamstring muscles because they’ve never been taught to land with a slight forward lean and all of the sudden they are landing heel first on every step after running for years that way.
Anytime you change something about your running form, it takes time to adjust. You need to practice that new form until it feels natural which means you aren’t as efficient and as a result, you run slower than you normally do .
It’s like when I first started high jumping – the first day of practice, I could barely clear 1′ because my body was so un-coordinated and everything felt awkward.
After a few weeks of practice though, I could clear over 5′ pretty easily because my body was used to doing it that way!
The same thing can happen if you change your running form – it will take time to adjust so you should only do it if you are willing to slow down until your body adjusts.
-More difficult: Landing with a slight forward lean is more challenging for your muscles because they have to work harder throughout the entire run rather than just during impact like they do during a heel strike.
The more muscle fatigue you experience, the slower and less efficient you will be.
-Slower: Slowing down is especially noticeable when switching from a heel strike to a forefoot strike because it takes time for your muscles to adjust and learn how to land in that new position.
That’s why I recommend gradually transitioning to a mid or forefoot strike over the course of a few weeks rather than switching from a heel strike to forefoot strike overnight.
Forefoot Strike: Pros & Cons
-Recovery: Landing on your forefoot is a lot easier on your body than landing with a heel strike because you aren’t transferring all of the impact from one foot to another.
It’s more like bouncing off of the ball of your foot so there is very little shock felt throughout your body.
-Easier: It’s also easier on your joints, especially if you’ve been heel striking for most of your life because it encourages a slight forward lean which will shift some of that impact to your calf and Achilles tendon rather than absorbing it with the rest of the leg.
-Quicker transition: Transitioning from a heel strike to forefoot strike is easier because you don’t have to change anything about your form, you just have to start landing on the balls of your feet instead.
-Calf and achilles tendon work: Your calf and achilles tendons will get stronger when transitioning to a forefoot strike because they are absorbing more impact than they were when heel striking.
-More likely to over-stride: When you land with a forefoot strike, there isn’t an initial impact when landing because your foot is already in contact with the ground.
That means that when you push off and start to take your next step, you automatically over-stride (land way in front of your body) because you aren’t used to starting your next step with your foot already in contact with the ground.
-More of a pounding sensation: The big problem I have with forefoot striking is that it feels like all of my weight is concentrated on the very front part of my feet when landing which means there’s more pounding and jarring felt throughout my entire body .
That will make running slower feel more difficult and less enjoyable.
-More likely to trip: I’m also more prone to tripping when landing on my forefoot because it’s harder for me to run fast and avoid rocks , roots, and uneven surfaces while landing in that position .
When I was heel striking, it felt like all of the impact was absorbed by the rest of my leg so I could run fast without worrying about tripping over my own feet.
-More likely to develop shin splits: If you’re someone who runs barefoot or with very thin soles, you’re probably already used to landing on your forefoot because it’s more natural for us .
Because of that, if you wear thicker shoes, you may start to land with your foot rolled inward which can cause pain, tightness, and even tears in the shins.
-Stomach/groin/butt strength: You have to have strong stomach muscles if you are going to consistently land on your forefoot because it’s harder for us than landing on our heels.
That’s why I recommend strengthening your abs and groin before you transition to a forefoot strike.
If you’re running slower, like for example if you’re starting to run long distances again after taking some time off, I recommend gradually transitioning from heel striking to forefoot striking over the course of several weeks rather than switching overnight to avoid muscle pain or injury.
Best running shoes for heel strikers
This shoe has a 10mm drop and is highly recommended by many podiatrists for heel strike runners because of Brooks’ patented ” DNA technology.” Since this technology apparently changes depending on the shape of your foot, I’m not sure if it’s entirely accurate to say that these shoes are perfect for heel strikers.
This shoe is a great option for heel strikers because it has a little bit of additional cushioning in the rearfoot. That means you have a greater chance of landing on your forefoot which should help decrease the impact on your legs, knees, and hips.
This shoe is designed specifically for runners with neutral biomechanics which means that they will be less likely to experience pain when wearing these shoes.
Since Asics are widely considered to be the best shoes for any runner who experiences pain, these are another great choice for heel strikers.
This shoe is also designed specifically for runners with neutral biomechanics so it will be a comfortable option as well.
Since there are several different models of the Asics GT 2000, you’ll need to figure out which one is right for you based on your arch type.
This shoe has a 10mm drop and works for any severity of overpronator.
That means that if you are just an occasional heel striker or if you’re still transitioning, this will be a good option because it allows you the flexibility to forefoot or heel strike.
This shoe is designed to reduce the impact on your legs, knees, and hips which makes it an excellent choice for any runner who experiences pain while running.
The drop on this shoe is 8mm so you should make sure that you are actually a mid or forefoot striker before buying these shoes.
If you like the way the Brooks Adrenalin feel but don’t want to pay over $120, check out the Ghost version of this shoe which is also designed for heel strikers.
These best running shoes for heel strikers come fairly close to the original in terms of comfort and they’re a great budget option.
How Do I Know If I’m a heel striker?
When you run, try and notice the part of your feet that lands on the ground first. If you are a forefoot striker, then your toes will hit the ground first; if you are a mid foot striker, the whole of your feet will land at the same time and if you are a heel striker, your heel will land on the ground before any other part of your foot.
Does Heel Striking cause Shin Splints
A study has shown that one of the major causes of shin splints is the heavy reliance on heel striking when running though there are several other reasons that you can have shin splints
Is It Ok to be a heel striker?
Heel striking have been giving bad publicity but the truth is that it is not as bad as it has been published. It is ok to be a heel striker as long as your pattern of heel striking is not injurious to you. it has been established that there are various patterns of heel striking and the patterns are determined by the angle the foot and the ground can vary in different heel strikers. the very steep angles shows that you are landing on your heel and all the weight is on the heel while the less steep angle shows that you are landing on the heel and part of the mid-foot which is less injurious.
Are HOKAS for Heel Strikers?
HOKAS are a great brand and it makes a variety of great running shoes. However, HOKAS make a lot of varieties of shoes knowing that one shoe cannot fit everybody. Having said that, HOKAS make good shoes for heel strikers.
Are most runners heel strikers?
60% of road runners and 70% of marathon runners are heel strikers since it is energy efficient.
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