If you want to improve your running form, it’s important to pay attention to how your feet land on the ground as you run. There are various different types of foot strike that you may have seen runners using, so you may be wondering what proper running form means for your feet.
To run with proper form, you should focus on landing your feet as close to under your hips as possible. This will help to reduce the braking forces that your body experiences with each stride. Keep your running cadence high to achieve this, and aim to run with a midfoot strike.
In fact, where your foot lands on the ground (relative to your centre of mass), is so much more critical to your running efficiency, than the type of foot strike you choose to run with. If you heel strike, feel free to continue doing so, just work on making it a more “gentle” heel strike by increasing your running cadence and bringing your landing foot closer to under your body.
As we get further into this article, I’ll explain why!
How should your foot strike the ground when running?
As runners, we come in all shapes and sizes. There is no single perfect running technique to suit everybody. In the same way, there are various different types of foot strike that runners tend to use, varying from heel strike to forefoot strike.
When it comes to proper running form for the feet; even the type of running event you’re training for will make a big difference. A competitive 1500m runner will have a very different foot strike to your average marathon runner!
Types of Running Foot Strike
Foot strike is defined as the moment in the running gait cycle (described here) when the foot first makes contact with the ground. Foot strike is also know as initial contact, and marks the beginning of stance phase of the running gait cycle.
Let’s quickly recap the different types of running foot strike:
Heel Strike Running Form
The vast majority of runners tend to run with a heel striking running technique, where the foot makes contact on the ground with the heel first, before rolling the weight forwards onto a flat foot. In fact, some research suggests that over 90% of recreational runners heel strike when they run.
Heel striking runners often (but don’t always) tend to over-stride which leads to increased breaking forces upon contact with the ground. Learn more about heel striking with over-striding.
Midfoot Strike Running Form
Running with a midfoot strike means that you’re striking the ground with a foot that is almost flat, with your heel and forefoot contacting the ground almost simultaneously. Midfoot striking is ideal for distance runners as it is virtually impossible to achieve if you over-stride, as you can see in this slow motion video of Eliud Kipchoge’s running form.
Forefoot Strike Running Form
Forefoot running (running with a forefoot strike) is a running technique where the balls of your feet, just behind your toes, are the first part of the foot to strike the ground.
Running with a forefoot strike is often described as “running on your toes”, and certainly feels very light, springy and fast. However, it also places a lot of strain on the calf muscles and achilles tendons.
Depending on how aggressively you forefoot strike, your heel may not come into contact with the ground at all during stance phase of running gait. This type of ankle stiffness is great for sprinters, but can be a recipe for achilles tendon injuries in distance runners. Learn more about perfecting your forefoot strike here.
Which Running Foot Strike Would Suit You Best?
Some distance runners will do best with a gentle heel strike, while others will better suit a midfoot striking running style. Sprinters in comparison will usually be better served with a forefoot running technique, landing higher up on their toes.
Years of coaching experience has taught me that to find a sustainable but efficient footstrike, you need to begin by refining what you already do habitually.
If you’re normally a heel striking runner, the focus should be to improve your running form so that your heel strike is less aggressive. This will reduce braking forces with each stride, reduce stress on your knees, and potentially make you a more efficient runner.
If you’re a forefoot runner and struggle with tight calf muscles, or achilles tendon injuries then the focus should be to make sure that you’re not running too high-up on your toes (unless you’re a sprinter!). You can still maintain that light and fast feeling, just without placing excess strain on your calves!
In truth, runners who run with different types of foot strike, tend to be predisposed to different types of running injury. A small change to your foot strike can get you out of a cycle of running injuries, as I describe in this video:
Proper running foot strike is more about avoiding the common mistakes, rather than trying to force yourself to run with a running technique that is un-natural for your body.
While it’s completely normal for some runners to heel strike, and others to forefoot strike, there are a number of running technique errors that some runners make when it comes to foot strike.
At best, these common mistakes will make you less efficient as a runner. At worst they could be why you keep getting injured.
Here are three simple tips that will help you achieve proper running foot strike, no matter what type of runner you are…
1. How to Run without Over-Striding
When foot strike occurs further ahead of the body, and the knee is more extended (straight) at the point of foot strike, you are considered to be overstriding, and effectively slamming the brakes on with each stride.
This often happens when running with a slow running cadence, and not only makes you less efficient, it also increases the impact felt by your knees, hips and lower back.
If you know you’re a heel striking runner, and you run with a slow running cadence (less than mid 170s strides per minute at an EASY pace), try to aim for a more gentle heel strike by increasing your cadence. This will feel like you’re making shorter, quicker strides.
Here’s a quick video with tips on how to increase your running cadence.
2. Forefoot Running without Injury
When it comes to forefoot running, landing on the balls of your feet can feel light and “springy”. It feels good!
However, it also places a lot of strain on your calf muscles and achilles tendons. This trade-off is great for sprinters but less sustainable for distance runners.
Endurance runners who forefoot strike should consider aiming for more of a midfoot strike, allowing the heel to lower to “kiss” the ground with every foot contact, rather than staying up on their toes in a more extreme (and aggressive) forefoot running position.
This simple change to your running foot strike will take the undue strain off your calf muscles and achilles tendons as you run with a less aggressive foot strike.
3. Don’t Force Big Changes to Your Running Foot Strike Pattern
Whenever you look to make changes to your running technique, remember that it will take time for your body to adapt to the new demands.
I like to follow the principle of minimum effective change when it comes to helping runners improve their running form. Essentially looking to find the small changes we can make to a runner’s natural running gait, that provide the maximum benefit.
If you make too large a change to your running form, too quickly, you’ll most likely find yourself discovering new weaknesses you didn’t know you had! Perhaps even getting injured. Nobody wants that.
As I stated at the top of this article: there is no single BEST running technique, rather some simple guidelines that will help you find a running style that works best for your own body… and some common mistakes to avoid.
Take it slowly, and listen to your body!