You may remember a craze a few years ago for Barefoot Running; when shoe companies created shoes with minimal support, which they believed would move people forward on their feet and enable them to become forefoot strikers, as opposed to mid or rearfoot strikers. The rationale was that this style had been used by many African runners who were able to run 100+ miles per week very quickly and without injury. In this blog I’ll discuss what happened to the barefoot running craze and whether you should be a rear, mid or forefoot striker.
What Happened To The Barefoot Running Craze?
The problem with ‘crazes’ is that people try too much too soon. The minimalist shoes looked really cool and people thought they would be the answer to all their injury worries, so they couldn’t wait to build up the mileage in them. However, even with a gradual introduction to barefoot running doctors found that there was a huge increase in foot injuries from runners who’d switched to barefoot shoes. (Here’s an example of a study if you’d like to read more http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26130697)
Do Elite Athletes Fore, Mid Or Heel Strike?
You’ll find very few heel striking track runners as it makes the ‘clawing’ action of track running much more difficult. However, a study of the men’s and women’s marathons from the 2017 World Championships revealed surprising statistics: In the women’s race 73% used a rearfoot strike, 24% midfoot and only 3% forefoot. The men’s statistics were very similar – 67% rear, 30% mid and 3% forefoot. The days of Abebe Bikila, who famously won the 1960 Olympic marathon running barefoot were over; even African runners’ techniques have changed.
So Should I Be A Heel, Mid Or Forefoot Striker?
If you’re planning to run shorter distances on the track then there are definite benefits to being a fore or midfoot striker. If you’re planning to run on the roads, as long as you’re not a flat foot striker it doesn’t matter (read on to find out what a flatfooted runner looks like).
I’m a big believer in adults not changing between heel, mid and forefoot striking, as it’s too big a change for your body to be able to handle without risking injury. Although heel striking is more likely to cause knee injuries, changing to a mid or forefoot strike can offload that stress to the calf and Achilles, meaning you’re really just moving the injuries around.
How Do I Know If I’m A Heel, Mid Or Forefoot Striker?
If you don’t already know, the easiest way to find out is to have someone film you run at about 60% effort. Most modern day camera phones have a slow motion video option. Use that and identify whether your heel, middle or front of your foot hits the ground first. You may find that your foot hits the ground flat. That’s a bad thing! It means that every time your foot hits the ground you slam the brakes on and send a shockwave up your leg. Have a look at this video https://youtu.be/H5eBL6JZHxw It’s literally only 12 seconds long! Try and copy the drill. Notice how the guy’s foot rolls forward and he holds the last part of the stride on his toes for a split second. Practising this drill will help get your feet rolling along the ground, therefore becoming less flat.
Are There Any Dangers To Heel Striking?
Yes. There is a real danger that you’ll overstride. Your foot needs to hit the ground below your centre of gravity, otherwise you’ll again be running the risk of slamming the brakes on making yourself susceptible to injuries. This video is slightly longer (40 seconds) but is a good demonstration of a foot cycle drill https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=keSP55t6gOM Start by lifting your feet lower so they just circle around your ankle and hit the ground below your body and then build the kneelift so it matches that of the guy in the video. Think about cycling as you do it – the lowest point of your foot should be when your leg is below you.
Elite track runners are almost always forefoot strikers but elite marathon runners often hit the ground with their heel first
Heel, mid or forefoot striking is fine as long as your foot lands under your centre of gravity
Your foot landing flat on the floor is a bad thing