Understanding Your Footstrike For An Optimal Running Performance

It should go without saying, but your feet play a big part in how productive your running performance is. Who knew, right?

Understanding your movement and the positioning of your feet when making contact with the ground is a big part of being consistent and efficient in your running. Of course, some level of attention must be placed on your form, but noting aspects of your running technique is also of vital importance to ensure you’re getting the best out of your running.

One way to better develop your technique is to work on your footstrike — which is exactly what we’ll be talking about today.

What is your footstrike?

Your footstrike is essentially your ‘foot placement’ — where and how your feet land when they hit the ground.

It’s a metric that is completely dependant on the individual and their body, weight, and posture, meaning that your footstrike is what works best for you personally, rather than one universally correct way to land your steps.

To identify what your personal footstrike is, go for a run and note just how your foot hits the ground first every time you take a stride. Do you strike with your forefoot first? Your heel? Or do you find balance by landing on the middle of your foot? Take note of your natural footstrike.

From there, you’ll find out how it affects your running performance in a number of ways, from what footwear you should be wearing, to how much strain is placed on your leg muscles, and how you can work to prevent injury.

What are the main types of footstrike?

There are a few types of footstrike that can be achieved:

  • Heel Strike

This is where you land on your heel first in your stride. This is the most common form of footstrike for runners.

  • Mid-foot Strike

This is where you land with the middle of your foot first in your stride. A neutral landing, your foot is central to the pavement when landing, meaning that your weight is evenly balanced.

  • Fore-foot Strike

This is where you land on your forefoot first in your stride. In this footstrike, your weight is placed on your toes and the balls of your feet, while your heel rarely touches the ground.

How does your footstrike affect your performance?

Your footstrike is essentially how you land each step, meaning every stride you take will be affected by it.

Your footstrike therefore affects your speed, energy, and potential for getting injured, meaning its important for any runner to understand their own gait and how their footstrike impacts the way in which they move.

For example, runners with a forefoot strike usually run leaning forward, which can lead to cramps in calves, while runners with a midfoot strike are typically able to run at higher cadences than those with a heel or forefoot strikes.

Runners who are particularly focused on performing on uphill ground will benefit from having a forefoot strike, while runners with midfoot strikes are more balanced over long distances and heel runners are able to turn and break more sharply. Each technique has its benefits, but it’s fully dependant on the individual and their body.

Of course, your natural footstrike will be specific to you, but there are ways to improve it for a more efficient and effective running style.

What does the science say?

According to a recent study, the impact of a footstrike could be the reason for some of the more common injuries that runners suffer from.

The study compared two sets of runners; those who land on their forefoot and those who land on their heel. The research found that runners with a forefoot strike were actually 62% less likely to get injured than those runners who led with heel-strikes.

That said, heel strikes are the most common footstrike for runners, which isn’t an ideal feature. Heel strikes contribute to another important metric — breaking. This is where you strike effectively slows you down by halting your forward propelling motion, reducing your momentum, wasting energy and placing more stress on your knees and feet which can often end in injury.

As such, the study recommends that runners with heel strike shorten their stride so that they land closer to their forefoot, which showed in the research to have a more economical and balanced style that helps protect them from injury.

Can I improve my footstrike?

Like most aspects of running, it can always be tweaked to improve your performance. Understanding your footstrike as a personal trait is vital and requires you to be fully in tune with your body movement when running.

Arguably, the most important thing to consider when you analyse your own footstrike is your risk of injury and how you can improve your performance to tailor for injury avoidance.

Likewise, while your natural footstrike happens organically based on how your body best spreads and balances your weight, there are aspects of that which you can change to help you reach a more economical run. Your natural distribution of weight is what helps allow your feet to absorb shock when hitting the ground, and changing that can place an added weight into an unnatural position which can cause issues. With heel strike being the most common footstrike for runners, an active change in form could help you to reap running rewards.

We recommend that you should aim for a mid-foot strike on most surfaces. This is because a mid-foot strike evenly distributes your weight across your feet, meaning no excess pressure or stress is placed upon the feet or knees and ensures that your footstrike is balanced.

That said, in certain specific environments, your footstrike may benefit from changes. Say, for example, if you’re running uphill and more weight is naturally needed to be placed on the forefront of your feet, or, conversely, if you’re going downhill and you rely more on your back foot and heel to brake. The terrain your run on will help your body to decide where to shift the weight almost subconsciously.

It’s also imperative that you have the right footwear for your footstrike, and wearing the wrong pair of shoes can lead to the risk of injury. Runners with a forefoot strike are less likely to need heavily cushioned or padded footwear, while those who put more weight in the middle or back of their feet would do, which would require more support.

By training your footstrike to suit your body weight and ground conditions, you can increase those much-desired marginal gains and ensure that you protect yourself from injuries and strains.

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