If you land with your heel on the ground before the rest of your foot lands, you may be what is known as a heel striker. Most people’s strides and what part of the foot they land on will vary slightly throughout a run or from one run to another.
Heel strikers make contact with the ground with their heel first most of the time when running. Whether this is good or bad is up for debate, though.
If you’re a natural heel striker and aren’t getting injured often, you likely have nothing to worry about.
On the other hand, if you continuously have knee or other pain after a run, you might consider trying to shift your running technique to a mid- or forefoot stride to see if this helps.
How do you know if you’re a heel striker?
The next time you’re out for a run, pay attention to how your feet land. Or better yet, ask a friend to take a video of your feet as you stride along. If your heel hits the ground first followed by the rest of your foot, you run with a heel strike. If you hit the ground with your mid or front first, you are a mid- or forefoot runner.
Running with a heel strike may make you more susceptible to certain injuries. For example, one small 2012 study from Harvard University found that among 52 cross country runners, heel strikers had twice the rate of mild to moderate repetitive stress injury in a single year than forefoot strikers.
But mid- and forefoot runners are also prone to injuries — just different ones than heel strikers. The same study found mid- and forefoot strikers were more likely to injure their ankle or Achilles tendon.
As for effect on your performance, a meta-analysis of 53 studies found heel strikers had no advantages or disadvantages when it came to speed or efficiency while running.
Other observations are mixed. One 2013
More research is needed to determine if different foot strikes give runners any advantage during their races.
There are some key mechanical differences between mid-, forefoot, and heel strikes.
Forefoot runners land on the ball of their foot or on their toes. As they stride, their heel may not hit the ground at all. This stride can cause your body to lean forward. It may put additional strain on your toes and calf muscles.
Landing on the balls of the feet is considered effective. But landing on the toes may cause injury if you’re a distance runner. Although it’s effective for sprinting and short bursts of speed, landing too far forward on your toes isn’t recommended for longer distances. It could lead to shin splints or other injuries.
Common injuries: You may be more prone to injure your ankle, Achilles tendon, or shins.
Considered the most “neutral” strike, midfoot strikers land in the center of their foot, with their body weight evenly distributed to the ankles, hips, back, and knees. Midfoot runners may be able to run efficiently and with speed.
Common injuries: You may experience foot, ankle, or Achilles pain at some point.
As mentioned, heel strikers hit the ground with their heels first before the rest of their foot hits the ground. This can put additional strain on the knees.
Common injuries: You may be more prone to knee and hip pain.
If you aren’t currently injured or prone to injuries, experts say there’s no real reason to change your foot strike while running. On the other hand, if you find yourself with knee or other injuries often, you may want to try training to land more on the middle portion or balls of your feet as you run.
Shift your landing for a few minutes
You can start to shift your foot strike gradually. It may feel strange at first to purposefully land in the center or the balls of your feet. Start with short runs for a few minutes at a time where you consciously switch up your running technique.
Gradually increase the time spent on a new foot strike
Increase the amount of time spent running in your new position by just 5 minutes a day. Eventually, you may find yourself running this way without a thought.
Get advice from a pro
If you find yourself getting injured often and are concerned about switching up your foot strike, speak to a podiatrist or a running coach. They can watch you run and determine if it’s necessary for you to change up how you strike the ground. They can also offer more tips for injury prevention.
Whatever strike pattern you follow, below are some helpful tips to make sure you’re running as efficiently as possible.
Perform some drills as a short 5-minute warmup before running. Some examples of drills include:
- running backwards
These drills may help because you will land midfoot or front-foot and get a feel for the positioning.
Try running barefoot in the grass or other soft surface. You will likely feel out your natural stride without a shoe, getting a better idea of how you can run your best.
Make changes gradually
Any changes to your running form should be done gradually. Slowly increase the amount of time you change up your form by a few minutes each week. This will help you stay healthy and injury-free.
There’s not a lot of evidence backing up why runners shouldn’t land on their heels. If you’re experiencing knee pain or other injuries frequently, switching up your foot strike position is one change you can consider.
If you do change, make sure you do so slowly and gradually so you don’t strain on other parts of your leg or foot. A podiatrist, physical therapist, or running coach can make a plan that’s safe and effective for you.