What is Heel Strike?
For those familiar with running terms, heel strike is when your heel is the first to hit the ground when running.
Defining Heel Strike
Let’s break down the definition of heel strike so you understand what it is and how it may affect your running endeavors.
While running, if your heel lands on the ground before the rest of your foot, then you’re what we lovingly refer to as a “heel striker.” Your stride and what part of the foot you land may change slightly depending on the terrain, weather, or other conditions. If the majority of the time running you strike with your heel, then you’re most likely a heel striker.
Is a Heel Strike Good or Bad?
Like other areas in running, there’s not really a good or bad way to do anything. The heel strike is no exception. If you naturally strike the ground with your heel first and you’re injury-free, you’re probably okay. But if the way you’re running causes injury, you may need to re-evaluate your form.
Heel strike is linked to overstriding, where your foot lands ahead of your center of gravity. When the heel hits the ground it sends shockwaves from the heel up the body and is absorbed by the spine. This can lead to back pain or injury for some heel strikers, but for others, it may not be painful at all. It depends on the individual runner.
What are the Other Foot Strikes?
There are three main ways your foot can strike the ground when you run. Heel strike, forefoot strike, and midfoot strike.
A forefoot strike runner lands on the ball of their foot or on their toes. As they run, their heel may not hit the ground at all. It may look like they are running on their tiptoes. A forefoot strike causes the body to lean forward, which puts additional strain on the calves and toes.
The forefoot strike is considered an effective running stride by many coaches and is used in sprints for short bursts of speed. However, landing on your toes over long distances isn’t recommended. It can lead to pain like shin splints, ankle injuries, or Achilles injuries.
A midfoot strike is known as a neutral strike. Runners that land on the midfoot can distribute their body weight evenly to the ankles, hips, back, and knees. While body weight balance doesn’t put unnecessary force on any particular part of the body, midfoot strikers are still prone to injuries.
Pounding the pavement regardless of foot strike will eventually cause some type of discomfort or injury. Midfoot strikers can experience pain and injury in the Achilles tendon, foot, and ankles.
Can I Change My Heel Strike?
Many runners don’t even realize how their foot hits the ground when they run. It’s not really something you think about, you just run how you run. That said, the way you run can change.
Some reasons you may want to change your heel strike:
- Prevent constant pain or injury
- Improve effectiveness or efficiency
- Try something new
Change Your Landing
It may feel weird to shift your foot landing at first. We’ve run a certain way our whole lives, so changing it takes a conscious effort. Purposefully landing on the midfoot or forefoot may take time to get used to.
Start by doing short runs for a few minutes at a time where you consciously change your running technique to either midfoot or forefoot.
Increase Duration Gradually
To prevent injury or pain, ease into a new running technique. Going too hard too fast can increase the likelihood of pain or injury. Try to increase the time spent running in the new position by only 3 to 5 minutes every day. Over time, it may feel natural to run in a new way without thinking about how you run.
Talk to a Professional
If you experience pain or injury often and have reservations about changing your foot strike, chat with a running coach or your doctor. They can give you guidance about what you may need to change and offer tips for injury prevention.
Bottom Line on Heel Strike
When it comes to studies on heel striking, there’s not a lot of evidence to show that it’s inherently bad. If you have constant knee pain, foot pain or other injuries switching foot strike position is an option to consider.
If you decide to switch your foot strike, do so gradually so you don’t hurt other parts of your feet. For further assistance changing foot striking, seek out a podiatrist, physical therapist, or running coach to develop a plan that’s safe and effective for you.