What is a Foot Strike?
Strike refers to where your feet first make contact with the ground when you are running. There are three parts of the foot where we can land: heel, forefoot, and midfoot. Heel striking is just as it sounds; you land on the heel of your foot, with your toes pointed up. A forefoot strike involves landing on the front of your foot, with your toes pointed down. Midfoot striking is landing on a mostly flat foot.
Why Does Foot Strike Matter?
Foot strike can influence the amount of force your body endures while running, as well as where these forces are distributed. Depending on your individual body and running form, a certain foot strike may help to reduce your risk of injury. There is evidence that foot strike can also influence efficiency with running.
What Impact Does a Heel Strike Have?
Most runners who use a standard running shoe land on their heel. Upon landing on your heel, a large impact force is created which can largely impact the shin bone and knees. Also, heel strikers tend to overstride more than forefoot strikers. Overstriding is taking large steps, which can decrease your efficiency. Although this information may deter some from landing with a heel strike, there are some benefits to it. A heel strike decreases the stresses placed on the arch of the foot and the ankle. The number one injury for runners 50 years of age and older is Achilles Tendonopathy. The evidence suggests that heel striking may be more beneficial for those with foot and ankle injuries.
What Impact Does a Forefoot Strike Have?
Most runners who run barefoot or with minimalist shoes land on their forefoot. With forefoot striking, the overall impact upon landing is much smaller than the force generated when landing on your heel. Here, there is less impact at the knees, however, the impact at the arch of the foot and ankle increases. Typically, stride length is shortened with forefoot striking, which in theory conserves energy. The two most commonly seen injuries in high school distance runners are stress fractures at the shin bone and knee pain. Theoretically, forefoot striking may be beneficial for this population.
Does Foot Strike Affect My Efficiency or Speed?
One effect of overstriding is that it increases vertical movement. This can essentially add a little jump to your jog, which uses more of your energy. Overstriding also results in your foot landing farther out in front of you. Consider physics; for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. If your leg is stretched out in front of you, there is going to be a “breaking force” in the opposite direction that you are running in. This will create more resistance for you to run against. Shortening your stride length can help decrease this breaking force to preserve energy.
Is There a Process for Changing Your Foot Strike?
Yes. Altering your running form is a process that should be introduced gradually. It takes about 4 months to safely transition from a heel strike to a forefoot strike.
Is There One Way That Every Runner Should Strike?
No. Generally, if you have been running with a particular strike pattern for years and are without injury, you should not change it. If you have new, reoccurring, or chronic injuries from running, then consult your physician for proper diagnosis and initiation of treatments to rehabilitate your injury. Your physician may also refer you for a Video Gait Analysis.
The author of this article is Becky Sidor, PT, DPT from Athletico- Hyde Park.