When it comes to running, you have to watch your foot strike, and when combined with poor form, you might find yourself in a world of pain. There is one of three sections of your foot to land on: the heel or rear foot, mid-foot and forefoot or balls of feet. What is best for you depends on your natural rhythm and whether you’re sprinting or running long distance. Either way, knowledge of the most efficient foot strike for each running pace won’t hurt and it may help you run like the wind.
Sprint Like a Champ
The current Olympic world record holder, Usain Bolt utilizes mid-foot striking when he sprints. When it comes to sprinting, you want to spend as little time as possible contacting the ground. The mid-foot strike is between your heel and ball of your foot. Track coach, Raymond Tucker, CSCS recommends landing on the midfoot. Running barefoot or with light shoes is the most efficient way to get used to running with a mid-foot strike because it is uncomfortable to heel strike barefooted.
Going the Distance
Long-distance runners tend to land on their heels, according to Dr. lain Hunter, a biomechanics researcher at Brigham Young University. This is when you land on your rear foot and roll on to the balls of your feet. It is thought to be inefficient for sprinters because more time is spent on the ground. However, over a long distance, heel striking uses less energy, which is ideal for long-distance runners.
It’s All About Form
Your running economy measures how you use oxygen while you run. Proper form while running affects your running economy, and this goes beyond your foot strikes. To run in perform form, start by keeping your back and neck straight by looking straight ahead. Relax your shoulders, drop them low and keep them level. Despite running being all about the legs, your arms play a crucial role in maintaining good form. Avoid swinging your arms across your body and clenching your fist. Loosen up your fingers and swing your arms in a backward and forward motion. With the running strides, you should raise your knees high and extend your legs forward to cover the maximum distance.
Don’t Go Against Nature
Dr. Hunter observed professional athletes at a track event and found that they used a variety of foot strikes, which did not affect their running economy or performance. Therefore, with proper form, your foot strike may not be ideal and still work for you. The “Journal of Applied Physiology” published a study in 2012 that found no difference in forefoot and rearfoot striking on your running economy. If you do not run competitively it may not be worth changing your foot strike.
- Stack.com: Sprint Form Checklist
- Runner's World: Study: Rearfoot, Forefoot Strike Equally Efficient
- The New York Times: Myths of Running: Forefoot, Barefoot and Otherwise
- Runner's World: Heel Strike Uses Less Energy Than Midfoot Strike
- Journal of Applied Physiology: Economy And Rate Of Carbohydrate Oxidation During Running With Rearfoot And Forefoot Strike Patterns
Frank Yemi has been a professional writer since 2007, and has contributed to several health and fitness magazines. He has worked as a medical fact checker and sports nutritionist in the United Kingdom. Yemi holds a Bachelor of Science in medical physiology, as well as a Master of Science in applied sports nutrition.