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Why Most Runners Heel Strike

Most runners heel strike. It’s not good for them.

But, there is some good news. It’s not their fault.

Do you know why?

Still don’t know?  Take a look at your shoes.  That’s right.  Most of the time, shoes are responsible.

You’re Trying to Tell Me That Shoes Are Responsible For Heel Striking?

Yep.

And You’re Also Trying to Tell Me That Heel Striking is Bad

Yep.

You’ve Got Some Explaining to Do

Fair enough. Most runners have never been taught how to run properly. In fact, many coaches have never been taught how to run properly. If you ran track when you were young, did your coach or assistant coach (probably your unpaid, volunteer assistant coach) teach you the fundamentals of running? Most likely they didn’t.  Mostly, they focused on making sure no one got lost, tending to injured athletes, and running drills to help build your speed and/or endurance. In fact, I had more than one coach who believed that there was no proper way to run.

Nonsense! There is definitely a proper way to run – and your foot strike is a big part of it. This is where your shoes come in. Modern running shoes have raised heels that are lifted up to 15 millimeters!  In the space created, typically some gel, an air bubble, or some other fancy padding (that happens to be quite marketable) gets added. This extra padding exists for shock absorption, which is good in theory. However, because the heel of the shoe is raised, it literally gets in the way of proper foot strike.

If you were to run barefoot, it would be much easier for you to land on the ball of your foot, with your heel touching down a split-second later. In this scenario, your achilles tendon acts as a coiled spring, naturally propelling you forward. With a typical running shoe, the ramp from the toe to the heel makes it difficult to land on the ball of your foot. That same shape makes it easy to land on your heel. Landing on your heel changes your posture, shifts your weight, and changes how your body absorbs the shock of each step you take.

So, not only are you losing that natural “spring” from your achilles, but you are also inflicting extra stress on your body when you wear typical running shoes. Far more stress than a little bubble of cushioning could ever hope to protect you from.

Try this little exercise – run in place. Notice that you’re landing on your forefoot, and not your heel. Now run forward like you would if you were about to hit the treadmill. Are you still landing on your forefoot? Or, are you landing on your heels? If you’re landing on your forefoot, you probably have pretty decent form and you should be congratulated! But, most people land on their heels because of the ramp in their shoes.

I’m pretty hard on the average running shoe. But, it’s important to know that you can learn proper running form in traditional running shoes. It’s going to be a much more difficult road, but it’s possible. I know I’m being redundant here, but it’s worth repeating: the heel of your shoe literally impedes you from landing on your forefoot. That toe-to-heel ramp is tricking your brain. Even when you are consciously trying to run on your forefoot.

Your Shoes Are Tricking Your Brain

Your brain uses sensory information from your foot (also known as the “touch” sense for those science wiseguys!) to determine how your foot needs to hit the ground. Due to the positioning of your foot (the angle of your foot as it moves through the air), your brain thinks you are about to strike the ground properly. What the brain doesn’t realize is that there is a wedge shape that protrudes from the bottom of your heel. So, as your foot moves towards the ground, perfectly positioned for the ball of your foot to land first…your heel suddenly strikes first, and you end up with the familiar heel-to-toe roll.  Or, you are conscious of this and overcompensate just a little bit.  What happens then? You slam your foot flat into the ground with a thud. You’ve probably come across someone who seemingly takes “pounding the pavement” too literally. Now you know how and why they are seemingly so clumsy.

If you’re having trouble running on your forefoot, don’t despair. I’ll be getting into how to correct your form in future articles. There are also plenty of other resources around the internet that you can access to help with your running form. Most of them are slightly different, but one of the main things they all have in common are that they advocate running on the front part of your foot.

Happy running!

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February 17th, 2012
Written By: Brett



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