Is It True That Only Sprinters Run With Forefoot Striking?

Continuing with the discussion on how people should land when they run, it is very interesting to look at the elite marathoners and what particular form they use. Many of those against forefoot striking have sent me videos and pictures of these athletes claiming they are “heel striking.” It almost turns into a he said/ she said type of argument because these runners are moving so fast that it is difficult to slow the video down or alter the video angle to yield a black and white answer. There are, however, many videos on You Tube that show strike patterns of various marathon runners.

Historically, we believed “sprinters” tended to run on their toes due to the speed of their running. This can be a very subjective statement because what may be sprinting to me is slow to an elite marathoner. Ryan Hall, an Olympic marathoner and America’s fastest marathoner, runs the marathon at an average pace of 4:46 minutes per mile. Most people cannot even sprint that fast. So can we make a blanket statement that only sprinters run on their forefoot?

In an educational video segment known as “Back to Basics,” Hall describes what he refers to as the proper way to foot strike. He advises landing “flatfooted,” not on your toes or on your heel.1 In fact, he advises against landing on the heel because the energy of the ground reactive force is back against you in the opposite direction of that in which you are moving.

When you strike flatfooted or on the forefoot, you land with the ankle dorsiflexed and knee bent. According to Hall, this is like a spring that is already coiled and ready to explode off the ground. This concept uses your body’s momentum and energy to propel you forward. Not only is this evident in the video of Ryan Hall running but he has, in his own words, admitted to not striking on the heel.

I am not suggesting that Ryan Hall is an expert in biomechanics, but he can run efficiently and extremely fast, and does this without heel striking.

Reference

1. Available at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=82ghOr78FcU . Accessed May 16, 2012.



Mike Orangesays: May 17, 2012 at 11:17 am

Nick,

Interesting article, I will try to experiment on this concept and see how it goes.

Your cousin, Mike

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Leesansays: May 24, 2012 at 12:32 am

It is not how you land but where you land that is important. From the video demo, it is obvious Hall is over striding on heel landing, which is equally damaging whether you are landing on the forefoot or the heel. With the craze about forefoot landing presently advocated, we'll expect to see an epidemic of torn TA in a few years time.

Best wishes.

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Dennis Claire, DPMsays: May 25, 2012 at 10:43 am

Dr. Campitelli,

Thanks for the blogs you've posted representing a new way of thinking that seems to be gaining more literature support.

With the whole barefoot resurgence, it is great that these discussions of how we run have come to the forefront. Working at a running shoe store for years, when asked about proper form, I just told people to run the way that works for them. I never thought that this could be bad advice.
But what other sport completely ignores proper form and mechanics? None. If any sport where form and mechanics should be focused on, it is probably running.

I think the fact that most people are heel strikers comes from the fact that the shoe influences the way our foot interacts with the ground. With a big wedge of foam cushioning in the heel, no wonder it strikes the ground first. With 5 to 20 mm of cushioning, your body doesn't have proper biofeedback and doesn't recognize the potential for damage. That is why I think barefoot running (just a little bit per week or a lot once you've trained yourself over a long period of time) is good. The body will naturally foot strike in the way that does the least harm. This can train the runner to have the most efficient gait for that individual. This is my opinion but there is old and new research that seems to support it.

Getting back to Hall's comment, "flatfoot" striking seems to be the way that habitual endurance barefoot runners seem to strike. First, the midfoot plants (usually 4,5 met heads) and then the heel drops to the ground, in essence loading the gastroc-soleus-Achilles complex like a spring. This flatfoot strike he describes is basically a midfoot strike.

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Dennis Claire, DPMsays: May 31, 2012 at 2:03 pm

Thanks so much for posting on these topics, representing a viewpoint that is not popular in our community, but is being fueled with more and more new research.

I think there is an ideal running foot strike and landing on the heel is not it. The biggest benefit of barefoot running is finding this ideal foot strike. It teaches the proper mechanics of running with or without shoes. Every other sport in the world focuses on form and technique. Why is running the only sport that doesn't?

The 'flatfoot' strke Hall mentions is really a midfoot strike. Most of us, when midfoot striking, will land first on the 4,5 met heads. Then the heel follows, loading the posterior leg and giving the spring-like propulsion like Hall explains. I think this is likely the ideal form, the way we strike when barefoot running. It does not mean everyone should do it full time but it helps to help develop a more efficient and better gait.

In addition, I think the reason why most runners heel strike is because most traditional running shoes have such bulky heels. With this huge wedge of foam, it is no wonder the heel hits the ground first.

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