We are all familiar with the story “Goldilocks and the Three Bears”, where Goldilocks stumbles upon a cabin and starts exploring. That’s where she finds a family of bear’s porridge, chairs, and beds and decides to test them out. When she found the porridge one was too hot, the second too cold, and finally the third was just right, the same plays out with the chairs and beds. Now you may be thinking how does this old childhood story relate to how I run? Just like Goldilocks had three choices for the porridge, chairs, and beds, we have three choices of how we strike when running and one will likely feel more comfortable than the other. There are rearfoot strikers (heel), midfoot strikers, and forefoot strikers (front of foot).
Does it Matter?
So is one superior to the other or more efficient? Does one prevent injuries better than the other? Well the overall answer is NO, everyone is different so there isn’t a one size fits most answer. If you watch elite runners you will see some are forefoot strikers, some are midfoot strikers, and others are rearfoot strikers. These elite runners don’t all utilize one method of foot strike, they use what works best for them. So how can the general public be expected to be told this is the best way to run, when there is so much variation in elite runners. Now you may be like “cool, but how do I know what is best for me?”
Surprisingly, like a lot of things, you actually intuitively pick the running style that works best for you. Thomas Michaud, an expert on running injuries, says “In spite of what many running experts tell you, you will always be the best judge of choosing the running form that is right for you”. Often if you force a runner to change their running style you increase their risk of injury and decrease their efficiency. So what are the advantages and disadvantages?
Advantages and Disadvantages
People often say midfoot striking is more efficient and reduces the rate of injury. This is based off of a study of Division I runners where they found that runners that made initial contact at the midfoot had a 50% reduction in rate of injury. However, it was not taken into account that these runners self-selected a midfoot strike pattern. Self-selecting a midfoot strike pattern is often a sign of a high level athlete, as well as having biomechanics that support this strike pattern such as wide forefoot, neutral arches, and flexible calves. Problems can develop though when rearfoot strikers switch to forefoot striking, especially if they aren’t able to support this running style.
A larger study found when it comes to running related injuries and foot strike, there is not a difference in the incidence of injuries between rearfoot and forefoot strikers. However, there is a difference in the location of injuries. Individuals that are rearfoot strikers tend to place more stress on the knees, while forefoot strikers tend to place more stress on the arches and calves. No matter how you strike the same force is absorbed, it is just absorbed in different areas.
In a study looking at the efficiency while running at different speeds they found that most recreational runners are actually 6% more efficient when striking the ground with their heel first, compared to midfoot and forefoot strikers. The benefits of heel striking continue until runners reach a 7:36 minute per mile pace, at which time heel and midfoot strikers are equally efficient. So what does all this mean?
The way you are running is probably the best way for you, and changing the way your foot strikes is probably not necessary. Having said that there are some occasions you may consider a change to help with chronic injuries. If you have chronic knee issues then you may consider striking more on the front of the foot vs the heel, or if you have chronic foot pain or Achilles tendinitis then you may consider striking further back on the foot vs the front of the foot.
However, changing your strike pattern should be a last resort and other risk factors should be addressed first. One of the most common causes of running injuries is over striding. Longer stride lengths increased forces from 1.5x to 5x the runner’s bodyweight with each foot strike. This equals roughly 5,000 tons of extra force that runners must absorb during a marathon. The foot should strike under the pelvis within a foot of the center of mass. Another risk factor is poor stability, which leads to poor control and inability to distribute forces. This is commonly due to poor breathing patterns and muscle activation.
Just like Goldilocks found the right porridge, chair, and bed to sleep in, we have to find the right striking pattern for ourselves. Our goal at TROSS is to show you a few small changes you can make to become a faster and more efficient runner, while also reducing the risk of injury. If you have any questions or would like to learn more contact TROSS today to schedule a complimentary consultation! TROSS proudly serves the Cottleville, St Peters, St Charles, O’Fallon, and St Louis communities.