For most distance runners foot strike is irrelevant to performance (1). Naturally foot strike occurs through a continuum, depending on speed. Sprinters benefit from forefoot running to maintain explosive quick movements. Frequent short strides are taken to get moving quicker and propel forward faster. However, healthy long distance runners show no clear benefit from the type of initial contact, and most runners have a rear foot strike (1). It is normal to have a heel strike as stride length increases.
When would mid-forefoot strike be beneficial? One study suggests that a 6:25 pace per mile is the transition point where mid/forefoot striking may be more efficient (2). However, this may be best for elite runners that choose a mid foot initial contact and are biomechanically sound. The majority of long distance runners chose heel strike, and it is not necessarily wrong (3). As with any type of training it is not recommended to suddenly increase or change training habits. Changing habits too quickly can result in injury.
Force with each running style is almost identical, however it is spread differently to the body. Forefoot runners absorb more vertical force in their foot and ankle, while heel strike runners absorb more force up the chain specifically in their knees (4).
In a 2017 study, Hamill suggests that changing style of contact is not beneficial for most runners, as it can result in injury, however changing style of running may be beneficial for some (1).
Chronic lower extremity pain including achilles tendonitis, plantar fasciitis, and patellofemoral pain may be taken into consideration. Runners with chronic anterior knee pain and clicking at the patellofemoral joint may benefit from slowly transitioning to more of a mid foot style running to decrease knee joint forces. This should be done gradually. Other biomechanics should be considered as well, such as achilles flexibility and arch type. Decreased ankle dorsiflexion and high arches may result in achilles tendonitis, plantar fasciitis, or metatarsal stress fractures, especially if the transition occurs too quickly. Individuals with high arches may also be succeptible to ankle sprains with this running style. On the other hand if you are an elite runner who typically runs with mid foot strike, transition towards heel strike may be beneficial if you are struggling with achilles tendonitis.
Bottom line, for most, heel strike running is sufficient. However, the above considerations may be beneficial with certain conditions. It is best to consult with a professional to help answer these questions as everyone is unique and if your body is in pain, it is telling you to back off.
1.) Hamill J, Allison G. Is changing foot strike pattern beneficial to runners. Journal of Sprite and Health Science. Vol. 6, issue 2, June 2017, Pages 146-153
2.) Ogueta-Alday A, Rodriguez-Marroyo JA, Garcia-Lopez J. Rearfoot Striking Runners Are More Economical than Midfoot Strikers. Med Sci-Fi Sports Exerc. 2013 Aug 30
3.) M.O. de Almeida, B.T. Saragiotto, T.P. Yamato, A.D. Lopes. Is the rearfoot pattern the most frequently foot strike pattern among recreational shod distance runners? Phys Ther Sport, 16 (2015), pp. 29-33
4.) Hamill J, Allison H. Derrick G, et al. Lower extremity joint stiffness characteristics during running with different footfall patterns. European J Sports Sci. Oct 15, 2012.
James Dulkerian, DPT
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