Foot Strike Pattern
Foot strike pattern is exactly how it sounds: where on your foot you land when you run. You may have heard that it is more efficient to run on your toes. But is this really the case?
The short answer to the question is no, the long answer is that it is very person-dependent and there are more important factors than just what part of your foot hits the ground first. Some of the top distance runners in the world land with the heels hitting the ground first. Research has also shown that there is no difference in the risk of running-related injuries between people who run on their toes vs on their heels.
There are three basic types of foot striking patterns: forefoot, midfoot and rearfoot strikers. Forefoot runners land toward their toes, rearfoot strikers on their heels, and midfoot somewhere in between. The one that is going to work best for you is largely a personal choice and really just comes down to what is the most comfortable for your body when you run. Studies have shown that up to 70% of all runners are naturally heel strikers, and this is likely because heel striking has been found to be more energy efficient for running at a slow to medium speed. In general, the faster you are running, the more towards your forefoot that you are going to land, and your body naturally changes that for you.
While where you land on your foot is personal preference, there is some evidence that the type of injury, not the risk of injury, varies between the different types of foot strike patterns. Forefoot strikers see greater forces through the achilles tendon, calves, ankles and feet. Heel strikers tend to put more force through their patella (knee-cap), patellar tendon, hip and knee joints. This means that while overall injury risk may not differ between the different landing patterns, the type of injury may be different depending on which structures are seeing the most stress when running.
More than worrying about whether or not you are landing on your heel when you run, you should be thinking about where your foot is landing when it contacts the ground relative to your body. You want your foot to be as close to underneath your centre of gravity as possible when it contacts the ground (directly under your hips – see the picture below left). This will allow you to efficiently transfer your energy from one stride to the next. If your foot lands too far in front of your body, you are going to create a “breaking” force that is going to slow you down, and it can increase the force that your knees, ankles and hips feel when running. This is termed “over-striding” (see picture below right) and is something that you want to avoid no matter what type of foot striker you are.
A great way to prevent overstriding is to focus on your running cadence. Your cadence is how many times your feet hit the ground per minute, and you should be trying to run in the range of 160-180 steps per minute. How fast is that? “Hey Ya” by Outkast is at 160bpm and will give you a good guide of where to start! There are also lots of playlists on Spotify and YouTube that are made at 160bpm if you want something to listen to while you run. If that is all a little too much thinking, a great thought while running is “short and fast strides beat long and slow”. For most of us, we need to increase our cadence by shortening our stride. It makes the stride more efficient, less prone to overstriding, reduces the risk of injury and will make running a much more pleasurable experience overall!