Foot Strike Type… and Why it Doesn’t Really Matter

Popular Culture

When the book “Born to Run,” by Christopher McDougall hit the shelves, it launched a movement toward minimalist shoes and a midfoot foot strike. Was this a bad thing to happen? Not necessarily, but like most things, adopting a new way to of doing things without thoroughly researching the “how” and “why” can lead to potential issues down the road.

There is nothing inherently wrong with minimalist shoes or a midfoot strike. However, does this mean that minimalist shoes and a midfoot strike is the best option for all runners? Not likely. This post will examine why the foot strike type is not as important as you may think.

You Aren’t Braking

Brake Pedal

Those that advocate for a midfoot strike over a heel strike often cite that when running with a heel strike, the time spent with the foot on the ground in front of the body equates to running with the ‘brakes on.’ This element of the running gait should be more accurately termed, “coasting.” Moreover, assuming a runner is not running with a ridiculously long stride (read: over-striding), the time spent with the foot on the ground in front of the body is minimal (much less than a second). Therefore, unless you are running downhill and consciously contracting your quadriceps to slow you down, you are likely not ‘braking’ while running. Lastly, just because someone runs with a heel strike does not necessarily mean they run with a long stride.

Differences

It is true that there are some inherent differences between a heel and midfoot strike, most notably the stress on the body. Typically with a heel strike, there is more stress on the skeletal system, whereas with a midfoot strike, the majority of the stress is placed on the muscular system, especially the soleus (calf muscle).

More Important Factor

Wiki Heel Strike
Licensed under CC BY 2.5 via Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:
Commgames_2006_Mens_Marathon.jpg#/media/File:Commgames_2006_Mens_Marathon.jpg

Regardless of foot strike type, the more important factor is the placement of the lead foot when impacting the ground. As noted above, landing with the foot in front of the body equates to coasting. While this is not all bad, is also isn’t the most efficient way to run. Therefore, a runner should look for their lead leg to impact the ground directly under, or slightly in front of their body. This allows for a fairly rapid transition to the drive phase of the running gait. One can make the argument that this foot strike location is more easily attainable via a midfoot strike, which is likely true. However, just because proper foot placement is more naturally attained via a midfoot strike versus a heel strike does not mean that a heel strike is bad. This is often deduced via correlation versus causation.


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