Heel strike/forefoot?

What's going wrong?

18 messages
03/10/2012 at 11:35

I'm a new runner but know I'm a heel striker, infact always thought that's how most folk run but been reading a great deal about the forefoot technique etc.  Now, my problem is this.  I thought I'd give the forefoot technique a try.  On treadmill I can forefoot no problem even in my usual shoes, find it quite easy actually but as soon as I get out on the road (in said shoes) I can't forefoot!  I was expecting to spring along like a gazelle but looked and sounded more like an elephant that had been on the wine.  What's happening?  Should I just stick to what I know or persevere?  I don't necessarily have any issues with my running but if a new technique would improve it then I'm wanting to do it.  Hope that all makes sense?  It did in my head anyway 

03/10/2012 at 11:43

I'm a known heel striker who is in the process of changing. I've found the following useful:

Wearing minimalist trainers with thin soles at the rear helps the transition. The big shock absorbing modern trainers with a huge under heel sole makes it near impossible not to heel strike. 

Shortening strides and/or increasing cadence (strides per minute) also helps.

Concentrate on landing with your feet directly under your body. Heel strikers tend to land too early (with foot too infront).

When running down hill, point your toes down.

But even then when I'm tired my old heel striking habits return. Especially towards the end of races.............

03/10/2012 at 11:47

If you don't have any issues with what you currently do (e.g. shin splints) then I wouldn't bother changing.
Is the treadmill inclinded, that might explain it.

03/10/2012 at 12:24

I changed from being a heel striker.  I've not had a joint injury since (and I've had a fair few knee ops) but I have had achilles issues which may be related to forefoot running, though are now past.  You are probably looking at six months to a year to change your running style, and can't really take anything away from a test on the treadmill then a run outside the next day.  It can also be hard work to change, as you're using muscles differently, and they can ache and complain for a while - even need to be strengthened specially.  Ultimately though, in terms of injury avoidance and efficiency, it is worth it.

I'm not an apostle of barefoot running (I have plenty of running shoes of all descriptions) but I did find that running barefoot a few times gave me a good idea of what I should be doing when I got my shoes back on.  Don't forget that on most trainers the heel is about an inch thick, which makes it easy to land on (squidgy and soft) and tough to get out of the way when trying to land on the balls of your feet or midfoot.

03/10/2012 at 13:07
Thank you. Great ideas there. I'm going to give the minimalist trainers a try. I have a pair sitting idle but have just been reluctant but now seems as good a time as any. I tend to be the impatient type that if it doesnt work first time forget it. Patience is a virtue I sadly struggle with but I'm getting there slowly!
03/10/2012 at 16:21

I would agree with Ian, if you dont really have any issues then why change? but if you still want to try, then you will need to be patient. It will take some time to get used to. I have been running in Merrell barefoot shoes (completely zero drop) for about a year now and still occaisionally need to make small adjustments.
Your stride should be shorter, and you should be running at about 180 bpm. your knees should remain very slightly bent. try running on a smooth safe surface with bare feet and you will find it surprising how your body will adapt quickly. its only when we put shoes on again that you need to remind yourself what you should be doing to forefoot strike.
As mentioned above its difficult to forefoot strike in built up shoes as your heel needs to drop slightly on striking in order that your foot functions corretly and absorbs the shock.
If you have very low drop shoes then your calf muscles will come into play more and you will need to increase your mileage slowly in them to avoid killer calves!
start with about no more than a mile in your minimalist shoes, then add about a half mile a week per run, untill you are back up to mileage again
what minimalist shoes have you bought?

03/10/2012 at 16:25

Stick with heel striking, the quicker you run the more Forefoot technique you will acquire.

Elites generally do it as they are running quick enough, so i wouldnt try and emulate for that reason. It will come naturally

03/10/2012 at 18:56
Is it a bad thing to heel strike? I run with a very soft strike compared to many I've heard but rarely get injuries. I always thought the forefoot strike was for a faster run?
03/10/2012 at 20:41

Hmm, yes I was inclined to think that forefoot was for faster runners due to the nature of the movement.  I heel strike quite heavily I think and was wondering if it was causing some muscle fatigue as I do struggle into the latter stages of a run even at a steady pace throughout.  I want to improve my way of going and ultimately improve my speed.  I'm not a long distance runner and doubt I wlll ever be, 5k is my tops at the moment but would like to improve allround for racing next year (hopefully!!)  I'm probably barking up the wrong tree entirely and just need to work on specific muscles instead.  Thanks everyone 

03/10/2012 at 21:29

Heel striking is a bad thing.  You can avoid a large amount of impact stress by wearing cushions on your soles making it less injurious.

But a quick experiment you can try in the comfort of your own home (or just outside). Wearing flats, spikes, or going barefoot, try to heelstrike when putting your foot right underneath you or behind you.  Now try a natural heelstrike and watch where your foot actually lands in relation to your body.  It will be in front.  You've just put the brakes on.

But prove it to yourself.  Try to slow down quickly from speed.  Your feet will go in front.  Try to restrain your pace down a steep hill.  Where are your feet?  In front.

Try slowing down on a hill with your feet landing below or behind you - tough, isn't it?  Takes a huge effort.  Pretty analogous to the effort of trying to accelerate or maintain a pace with your feet landing in the braking position all the time.

Elites don't forefoot strike because they are running quick enough, they run quick enough because they forefoot strike (amongst many other things, obviously).

EDIT: I ought to say 'or midfoot strike', just not heel strike.

Edited: 03/10/2012 at 21:31
04/10/2012 at 00:28

I'm transitioning into minamalist training shoes 'cos I'm suffering with PF; they do teach us how to run 'properly' 'cos if you start heel striking, your body lets you know it's wrong.

Shorter strides, not using calfs to propell forward, landing on the forefoot or midfoot under your body.  It feels good even on tarmac if it's done properly.  Heels aren't really required that much for running; that's how that South African guy with no lower legs can run like heck on those 'leapard's foot' blade things.

I still do my longer runs in normal training shoes though; transitioning into minamalist footware should be done carefully.

16/11/2012 at 11:19

I've also just started trying to forefoot/midfoot strike this week.  I've been out with a minor ankle injury for about 4 weeks, and just got out for a couple of nice easy jogs this week.  Concentrated hard on landing my foot directly underneath my body and pointing the toes slightly downwards to prevent landing on my heel.

It works fine and got to say the running felt better / easier.  Having read Ratzer's post above, possibly because I'm not applying the brakes all the time!

I'm struggling a wee bit with hills though.  Down or uphill, I seem to be striking with my heel.  Any tips on how to avoid this?  There are a lot of hills where I tend to go running, so would be good to get to grips with it!

I have only been out twice so far since trying the new technique, so I appreciate it won't just happen easily.  It kind of did for running on the flat though and that's without changing shoes - just my normal training shoes work fine.

16/11/2012 at 12:22

Something on this topic in the training talk in last episode of TalkUltra, suggests using pliometric exercises to aid the transition. Interestingly Europeans have short fat tendons and Kenyans have long thin ones which is a benefit to fore foot running.

16/11/2012 at 13:31

Try to make sure your foot lands under your body instead of in front of it. That shoudl shorten the stride and give you more control over speed. Lean slightly forward from the ankles and imagine your pelvis is a bowl full of water, then imagine not spilling that water.

16/11/2012 at 14:40

I've been transitioning to forefoot for a while, just because I got a bit sick of people saying I run marathons like a shuffler. I can run 10 miles or so offroad and not get too much aching the day after. OTOH 12 x 45s/45s intervals forefoot landing still batters the calves. I started wondering whether to follow Pose running methods better. One bit of advice is to think of lifting the heel up behind you rather than think of reaching out with the front foot. This propels you just as well but stops you overstriding.

Edited: 16/11/2012 at 14:41
20/11/2012 at 14:56

When I went through the transition period, it was recommended to me by a coach that I  download a metronome app onto my phone, and set it at 180bpm. If you run with that and land on each beat, you have to significantly shorten your stride length, so you will land more on your forefoot/midfoot. It helped a lot.

It is worth mentioning that a lot of people think they have successfully transitioned, and run forefoot, but actually haven't, so it is worth having someone watch/video you. This study is worth a read:

http://www.asbweb.org/conferences/2012/abstracts/281.pdf 

Edited: 20/11/2012 at 14:56
27/12/2012 at 22:40

Right, I better say something here. First of all read a book - Born to Run.

I have been heel striker all my life (34) until last September when my wife asked me "Are you landing on your heel or fore foot?" She has just been reading Born to Run at that time...

To cut the story short -try to heel strike with bare feet - you will soon stop as it hurts too much. This is not what humans are "designed" for... Modern shoes have introduced a generation of heel strikers like myself but this is easy enough to change. 6-12 months is nonsense but take it easy initially and you should be converted in about 1-2 months.

Buy yourself minimalistic shoes like Merrel Trail Glove and start easy - you can't get it wrong because its natural. Start with 400-500m once a day on the grass and then gradually increase...Try some drills - plenty on youtube (search for barefoot running)

It took me about 1 month to convert from heel strike to fore foot (able to run 10k no problem) and I am about 10% faster, it is 100% more pleasure and fun so I put my old thick heel shoes to the bin pretty quick.

 

Forget about heel strike honestly, its all wrong and you NEED to change this.

28/12/2012 at 12:31
I agree in part to the last sentence in the above post. Forefoot striking works for me but i did try a heel strike where my foot landed under my body and it felt ok. As far as I am aware, most of the advice out there says do what feels comfortable. I am not picking up any injuries as a result of my footstrike and I am happy at that.

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