Should you be thinking about changing your landing position?
Wherever you go in the company of runners or athletes, the question will inevitably surface… Are you a midfoot runner or heel striker? Which is best and why?
- What’s the difference?
- Heel strike.
- Midfoot strike.
- Keeping strong and safe,
What’s the difference?
Watch runners when you are out and about and you will spot the difference. Heel strikers land on the back of their shoe, with the heel area contacting the ground first, before rolling through the rest of the foot. This can be with a relatively flat foot or quite exaggarated, obviously the closer to flat at landing the better.
Midfoot strikers land flat on the middle of their foot flush to the ground. Some will even run on their forefoot, or toes which I would like to stress is not a safe way to run. It can create plenty of loading issues that stress your Achilles and other ankle tendons, along with the foot region too.
I have always been more keen on where people are landing at their stirke point. How close are they to landing under their body centre of gavity? There are plenty of forefoot runners out there who are over striding and creating loading issues through their foot and ankle region, while equally there are plenty of heel strikers who have a great leg cycle and land under their body placing little excessive stress through their lower region. Worth keeping this in mind while you debate the right way to go for you.
But which is better? I am going to say neither. And at Running Logic that’s what we would always say. Most people are heel strikers, professional runners and fast runners do run on their mid foot, however this is not their focus or strategy, it is merely a result of their speed and technique. You can change, however it is a process which takes significant time. At the end of the day, your ground contact should be a product of your running technique, not the foundation of it.
I am a heel striker, as are the majority of recreational runners. It is unspecified why some people run on as heel strikers and some midfoot. It has been theorized that the introduction of modern running shoes with a cushioned heel has transitioned most people into heel striking. However I have seen plenty of people using minimalist footwear heel striking. Another theory is the movement patterns we adopt in modern life, creating restrictions in our hip patterns that inhibit the natural running form we are trying to create. In barefoot running it is not easy to heel strike as you risk fracturing your foot with the harness of footpaths and other surfaces we have to run on.
I find it my natural and most comfortable way to run. The difference in ground contact time is absolutely minimal, and the injury risk is not confirmed as higher. However as a heel striker you are more likely to overstride. This increases load on the knee and hip.
I would stress there is nothing wrong with being a heel striker, it does not make you a better or worse runner, and unless you go to the extremes of elite times it will not increase your speed. If it is natural, and your body is in good shape and strong, stick with it. It is simple and avoids many complications that can come with midfoot striking.
The majority of children run on their midfoot, and so do a proportion of adult runners naturally, then there is a category of people who deliberately transition from heel striking to midfoot out of choice. Is the latter recommended? Not necessarily. It can be done, and if you train seriously, as an adult we would target an 18 month to 2 year transitional period. This is because it changes the forces on your body and if it is not done gradually can create serious injury problems. Often it is lower leg and foot based, as the structures are not prepared for such a rigid landing position, which is what happens when you run mid foot. Instead of using the natural rock of the foot, you are using your calf, soleus, and other lower limb muscles to brace and control the landing. This is what they are designed to do but you have not been using them this way for a long time so the tissue tolerance is low and therefore the injury risk is high initially.
Keeping Strong and Safe
If you want to remain injury free as a runner, it doesn’t matter where you strike the ground. It matters that you use strength training to keep your muscles, tendons and bones resilient to the impact that comes with running for many kilometers on hard surfaces. The importance of single leg load and resistance training cannot be overstated. This goes doubly for those who do wish to transition from a heel strike to a midfoot runner. If your calves and soleus are not strong, you risk significant issues with your foot and lower limb, including stress fractures which are a nightmare to rehabilitate.
It can be a safe and thoroughly enjoyable process. But it comes with coaching and technique. I’ll say it again, your landing is facilitated by your leg cycle and running technique, not the other way around. If everything happening above ground level is strong and efficient, the landing will take care of itself!
Has this conversation come up? I like to think a logical thought process can help you understand why neither is better or worse than the other.
- It shouldn’t be a taboo subject, heel striking and midfoot running are both great.
- Most people are naturally one way or the other.
- Your landing position should be a result of your running technique and leg cycle.
- You can transition from heel strike to mid foot, but it should be done with professional help and take up to two years.
Promoting Form over Forced Change