Proper Running Foot Strike for Distance Runners

How should your foot strike the ground when running?

Thoughts on proper foot strike for 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’s no “best” way for your foot to strike the ground when running. We are all built differently. Even the type of 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!

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.

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…

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1. Run without Over-striding

Whether you’re running with a heel strike, or a forefoot strike, the point of initial contact with the ground should occur with your ankle beneath a flexing knee.

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 – Avoid Extremes

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.

Proper Running 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!

Good luck.

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Last updated on March 2nd, 2021.