Which Part of My Foot Should I Land on When Running?

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If your running pattern is that you land on your toes or forefoot, you may have been told it's better to land mid-sole. If you are a heel-striker, you may have heard of newer advice that minimalist and barefoot patterns favor landing on your forefoot and is favored by elite runners. Is there a definitive answer?

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. 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. 

The Traditional Answer Is That Landing Mid-Sole Is Best

The traditional answer is that the middle of your foot is the best place to land 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 toes causes your calves to do too much work, which can lead to shin splints. Running on your toes can also 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.

Benefits of Changing Your Footstrike Are Disputed

You may think that changing your footstrike can improve your running economy or reduce your risk of running-related injuries.

However, research says that these benefits have not been proven. This leads to the current confusion about what advice to take.

How to Change Your Footstrike

Despite the tension between the traditional view and newer ideas, you might decide that you want to change your footstrike. You can't change your footstrike overnight, but you can work to gradually work towards landing mid-sole. If you're a heel-striker or toe-striker, here are some tips to try to (gradually) change your footstrike:

  • 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.
  • 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. This doesn't mean you should run barefoot all the time since that could lead to injury. But running short intervals on a soft, safe surface allows you to practice mid-foot landing.
  • 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.
  • 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.

    Sources:

    Goss DL, Lewek M, Yu B, Ware WB, Teyhen DS, Gross MT. Lower Extremity Biomechanics and Self-Reported Foot-Strike Patterns Among Runners in Traditional and Minimalist Shoes. Journal of Athletic Training. 2015;50(6):603-611. doi:10.4085/1062-6050.49.6.06.

    Hamill J, Gruber AH. Is changing footstrike pattern beneficial to runners? Journal of Sport and Health Science. 2017;6(2):146-153. doi:10.1016/j.jshs.2017.02.004.

    Kasmer ME, Liu X, Roberts KG, Valadao JM. Foot-strike pattern and performance in a marathon. International journal of sports physiology and performance. 2013;8(3):286-292.

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