This article will expand on the ideas presented concerning foot strike in our series on learning good running form. Here’s a recap:
- Plantarflex your foot while it is in the air – point your toes slightly downward
- Land on your forefoot, with your heel touching down a split second later (dorsiflex)
- Make sure you foot lands as close to your center of gravity as possible, leaning forward at the ankles will help
- Make sure you land as softly as possible
- If you’re having trouble, try shortening your stride. Aim for around 180 strides per minute.
The Theory Behind Forefoot Striking – Why You Absolutely Need to Be Doing This:
What is Foot Strike?
Foot strike is arguably the most important part of your running form. It’s also one of the most confusing to describe. That’s because there are a couple of ways that people address it conceptually. Here’s how I break it down:
- Forefoot. You land on the ball of your foot, with the heel touching down a split second later, harnessing the spring in your tendons to propel you forward.
- Midfoot. The ball of your foot and your heel land simultaneously.
- Rearfoot. You “heel strike” – your heel strikes the ground first and you roll forward onto the balls of your feet to push off.
This is how I will refer to the concept of foot strike for the purposes of consistency and simplicity.
It’s important to note that if you are researching this elsewhere, you may run into some different ways to describe it. Some coaches may lump forefoot and midfoot striking together as one. Many, including me, refer to heel striking and rearfoot striking interchangeably.
What is Correct Foot Strike?
This is one of the most controversial things in the running community. Forefoot striking is making a comeback, thanks largely to the barefoot community. For the last 20+ years, there had been a gradual shift towards rearfoot striking, as shoe companies began to roll out lines of shoes with fancy types of padding and raised heels. Now, thanks to the success of Chris McDougall’s book, Born to Run (which I highly recommend) and to the power of community on the internet, forefoot striking is becoming popular once more. There are vocal critics, who can’t wrap their heads around the idea that running barefoot could prevent injuries, improve performance, or increase efficiency. That’s because running barefoot doesn’t do those things. What barefoot running does do is encourage you to run with a forefoot strike. Running with a forefoot strike is what is going to get you the performance gains along with the injury prevention.
A quick sidebar for those who want to point out “That’s not true! It’s perfectly possible to heel strike while you’re barefoot!” Yes, that’s technically true. But, if you are really doing that, you’re running barefoot simply because someone told you to or to be trendy. If you took the time and did the research, you’d quickly learn that barefoot running is beneficial because it promotes forefoot striking. Also, I said “encourages”, not “forces”. You still have to learn how to run with a forefoot strike.