One of the most common questions I am asked by runners of all standards is “What part of the foot should I land on?”. This is also the topics of many running articles, theories, advertising campaigns and debates.
My short answer, which surprises 99% of people is..
“It doesn’t matter”
Which part of the foot touches the ground first is not a reflection of good technique. It is entirely possible – and unfortunately quite common, for people to land on the ‘right’ part of the foot and still have poor technique or be creating injury inducing stresses or loads. The most common of these are people that focus on landing on the toes or front forefoot. It is quite easy to land on this part of the foot with zero knee lift and be essentially jamming the foot into the ground. In a podcast interview I did last year I spoke about how doing the butt kick drill (which most people do incorrectly) can exacerbate this motion.
Yet the runner thinks they are running correctly ’cause they are landing on their toes’. Blisters around the ball of the foot or bruised toes are normally a give away as the foot ‘brakes’ into the ground moving in the shoes against the direction of travel – and constantly applying brakes in a run is never a good thing for your body or run time.
The long answer to the question “Which part of the foot I should land on?” is that if the rest of the mechanics of the run are correct then your foot really has no choice about where it lands. Good knee lift (note the word ‘lift’ – not push), good extension through through the hips, square chest with lack of shoulder twisting etc means that the foot will typically land around the mid foot. Try running like this (focussing on knee, hips etc) and try to land on your heels – it is virtually impossible.
I use a drill called the Marching Drill to focus on the correct technique
So, rather than focus on the foot strike spend your time analysing the main area of your run technique – knee, chest and hip position and your foot strike will quite literally fall into place.
By the way – for the triathletes. What I have found is that when technique is correct, the part of the foot that hits the ground is exactly the same as the position of the pedal axle when a bike fit is correctly performed.Last updated on March 2nd, 2021.
Great read Graeme, thanks!
I was asked the other day about the common cue of dorsiflexing the leading foot during A & B drills. I notice in your marching drill you keep it plantarflexed. What’s your take?
Thanks Matt. I do use dorsiflexing as part of another drill. As the the foot is a 2nd class lever it is difficult for new runners to develop spacial awareness so this type of drill helps. The downside is doing too much dorsi flexing can put a strain on the tibialis anterior so I dont over use it especially with new runners. There is also a limit to the number of areas a person can concentrate on at once so try to keep the focus, in this case, on the knee lift and hip position as the objective of the drill.
Interesting article. Bruised toes…. that is me. I will try this drill out before my runs to see if it will help, my toes are not enjoying my current running form apparently.
Becky. You may want to try this drill too http://tinyurl.com/lret7cz
Very interesting article which reminds me of Mac Dougall’s 100-ups, but I’m also confused about the difference between what you advocate namely “the knee lift” and what some other coaches like Erik Orton advocates namely “the knee drive”. What should you do to run with good form, a combination of both?
Good question Manu. A combination of both is important. Too many runners push off the ground rather than lifting. Pushing loads up the calf and achilles – lifting unloads them and uses the muscle shortening reflex. I use pool running as well to focus runners on knee lift/drive
When you do B mach drill you are actually dorsiflexing, if done correctly.
Does heel, or mid foot strike put least stress on ankle, or doesn’t it make a difference. I am soon to be returning to running after an injury. I ‘be snapped an ankle ligament and because of altered gait suffered bleeding in to the hip bone. Luckily caught before stress fracture. Thank you
it’s helped me prepare calmly.