Forefoot running vs. heel strike running is a hotly debated topic in the running community. Some contend that a heel strike will slow you down and cause injuries, while others will happily point out that some of the top marathoners in the world are heel strikers.
So what gives? According to Dr. Matt Stevens, physical therapist and owner of Pure Physio (Strongsville, Ohio), it actually doesn’t actually matter much if you’re a forefoot or heel striker.
“You’ll see a variety of different folks that say heel striking is bad,” he says. “You look at a lot of elite runners or elite marathoners, they’re heavy heel strikers and they’re still very fast.”
Rather, he explains that you need to focus on where your foot strikes the ground.
“The main focus when we are looking at running technique and footstrike is where does the foot hit the ground in relation to the hip,” he says.
Don’t: Strike the Ground in Front of You
Notice in the forefoot and heel strike images above that Stephens’ foot is far out in front of him. This position causes braking, meaning that your stride is absorbing your forward momentum when your foot strikes the ground.
Braking forces will slow you down and force you to work harder because you have to speed up with every stride simply to maintain your speed. Braking forces also place a great deal of stress on your joints that increase the likelihood of an injury over time.
“This tends to be a very bad position,” says Stephens. “The more that my foot moves in front of my center of mass, ultimately the more weight and more pressure or compression that my knee and hip are going to take in this position.”
In short, striking the ground too far in front of you will slow you down, make every stride more difficult and increase your risk of injury.
Do: Strike the Ground Directly Under Your Hips
Whether you’re a forefoot or heel strike runner, strive to contact the ground directly under your hip. This footstrike position reduces braking forces and limits stress on your joints so your stride can propel you forward without wasting energy.
Stephens explains that the foot should be flat and relaxed, and the knee should be slightly bent when contacting the ground. Ideally, strike the ground with your midfoot but you can shift toward the front or rear of your foot depending on what works for you.