Emerging Evidence On Footstrike Patterns In Running
With these facts in mind, there is support within the research literature that runners have the ability to self select their most efficient running form as they become more experienced runners. In 1982, Cavanagh and Williams performed a classic running research study that demonstrated that experienced distance runners are able to self select their most metabolically efficient running stride.25 In their experiment, 10 experienced distance running athletes ran at seven different stride lengths on a treadmill at 3.83 m/sec (7:00 mile pace). The stride lengths the athletes were asked to run at included their self-selected stride length, three shorter stride lengths and three longer stride lengths (80 percent, 86.6 percent, 93.3 percent, 100 percent, 106.7 percent, 113.4 percent and 120 percent of their self-selected stride length). The researchers found that when the study participants ran at stride lengths that were either shorter or longer than their self-selected stride length, the runners became less metabolically efficient. These research findings suggest that well-trained runners may be able to find their most metabolically efficient running form without needing to be “coached” in order to run with optimum efficiency.
Since the vast majority of runners choose to rearfoot strike and less than 3 percent of runners choose to forefoot strike, it makes sense that there may be some metabolic advantage to rearfoot striking running.11-14 In fact, there are now a number of recent studies that support the idea that rearfoot striking running may be the predominant footstrike pattern since it is the most metabolically efficient running form at recreational running speeds.
In 2009, Miller and colleagues performed a computer simulation study of rearfoot and midfoot running at 4.0 m/sec (6:42 min/mile).26 They found that rearfoot striking running was 6.3 percent more metabolically efficient than midfoot striking running. In 2013, Gruber and coauthors studied the rates of oxygen uptake during running in 19 habitual rearfoot and 18 habitual forefoot striking runners at three different running speeds, and found that the rearfoot striking pattern was more economical than the forefoot striking pattern at all running speeds.27 From their study, Gruber and coworkers rejected the commonly held idea that habitual rearfoot strikers should have training to be forefoot strikers to make them “more efficient runners.”
Most recently, in 2014, Ogueta-Alday and colleagues studied 20 sub-elite distance runners, 10 who were rearfoot strikers and 10 who were midfoot strikers.28 They found that the rearfoot strikers were 5.4 percent more economical than the midfoot strikers at 3.0 m/sec (8:56 min/mile) and 9.3 percent more economical than the midfoot strikers at 3.6 m/sec (7:26 min/mile).
Overall, there is now overwhelming research evidence that rearfoot striking running is not only the most common footstrike pattern but also the most economical footstrike pattern at recreational running speeds.
Altering Running Form: Can It Have An Impact For Runners With Chronic Exertional Compartment Syndrome?
Even with the scant research evidence supporting the notion that rearfoot strikers may benefit from converting to a midfoot or forefoot striking running form, there is some evidence that altering running form has the potential to benefit select individuals.