Many runners set a goal for themselves to switch from being a heel striker to a mid or forefoot strike. The million dollar question that all runners find themselves asking is, “Is it necessary to change how your feet impact the ground? Is heel striking bad? Should your heel touch the ground when running? How to stop heel striking?” Excellent questions.
First, there are three different ways that a runner can strike when they run. Let’s delve into that first. The three ways to strike are with the forefoot, a mid foot strike or a heel strike.
What Is a Forefoot Strike?
A forefoot strike is when the front of your foot hits the ground first. In this strike your toes and/or the front of your foot, that is a forefoot strike. Some people with this strike do not even impact the ground with their heel.
Since sprinters usually run this way, many people think that a forefoot strike is the best way to run if trying to be fast.
Running With a Mid-foot Strike
In a mid-foot strike what is typically happening is the middle of your foot impacts with the heel. Since this happens simultaneously, you are not actually “putting on the brakes” like happens in heel striking.
Many people feel that this is the most natural of the running foot strikes, and actually push themselves to change how they hit the ground. This is actually often referred to as a neutral strike and many proponents of a mid-foot strike claim it helps athletes to remain injury-free.
Heel strikers hit the ground heel first while running. The most common of the foot strikes, people will tell you that if you can unlearn this method of running you will get faster. If you think about it, it does make sense that hitting the ground with your heels could be like applying a break.
You hit with the heel and then the foot rolls across the entire bottom of your foot ending with the toe. However, that does not mean you need to change your strike.
Is Heel Striking Bad?
Heel striking has been linked to certain injuries in studies conducted by sports medicine professionals. Injuries that seem to be associated with heel striking are as follows:
✓ Achilles Injury: Since heel striking can lead to increased pronation, there can also be excessive stress in the Achilles.
✓ IT Band Issues: The heel spends more time on the ground when you run with a heel strike, thus putting stress on the IT band.
✓ Knee Pain: Some knee problems are more common in runners who heel strike.
✓ Lower Leg Pain: Leg cramps and lower leg discomfort or pain is another ailment that those who heel strike often complain about in higher frequency than those who are forefoot or mid foot strikers.
Having said that, many athletes run with a heel strike without any problems, pain or difficulty. If running with a heel strike does not cause you pain, it probably is not bad.
Should Your Heel Touch the Ground While Running?
The heel of most runners will touch when they run the ground. It stands to reason that anyone who heel strikes will touch the ground with their heel. A mid-foot striker also touches the ground with their heel. The difference is that instead of your heel touching first then rolling through to the toes, in a mid-foot strike your heel touches a bit when your mid-foot impacts.
In a perfect world, your heel would touch but not have to carry a large weight load. What that means is that impact should be brief. Interestingly enough most elite marathoners are heel strikers or midfoot strikers.
Why this is so fascinating is because most “average Joe” athletes think they need to change their foot strike in order to be a better and faster runner.
How To Stop Heel Striking
If you don’t want to be a heel striker, you can try to change how your foot impacts the ground. One way to do this is to perform and practice running drills that are likely to change how you impact the ground.
Drills For Better Running Form
Most runners have heard discussion about running drills, but many fail to implement them into their workout regiment. If you look into running drills to improve your form, you are likely to find a whole slew of helpful hints. Popular running drills include butt kicks, high knees, power skips, skips with high knees or “A’s”, “B’s” and carioca.
If you want to learn more about these drills follow the link to our Running Drills Rockay blog.
Transitioning Your Foot Strike
Sometimes wearing a shoe with less structure can help you to modify your foot strike. Stability shoes tend to decrease the foot’s flexibility. If you are in a shoe with less structure, such as a shoe having more minimalist characteristics, in theory, your foot will tend to move to a more natural foot strike.
Please note that you should not transition from a cushion or stability shoe, or even from a neutral shoe, too quickly. If you go from a shoe with a lot of control to one with very easily too fast you could end up injured.
The best thing to do is to significantly decrease the mileage you are running in the minimalist shoe considerably from what you normally run. If your normal run is 3-4 miles, your first few shoes in minimalist shoes should be 1-2 miles. Maybe even less.
Doing speed work in a track shoe or racing flat is another way to transition your strike. When doing this be sure you warm up in your old training shoes. Most people naturally fore or mid foot strike during sprinting. Think about how your foot is hitting the ground during this running.
After the sprinting on the track, put your trainers back on and try to keep some of that forefoot striking.
Running barefoot is another way to start to transition. Most people run barefoot on sand, soft dirt or grass. Again, be careful, start with low mileage and ease into it.