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The pitfalls of focusing on Foot Strike

So running boils down to a lot more than just chucking your runners on and putting one foot in front of the other. In this blog I’m going to discuss foot strike – particularly the pitfalls of ONLY focusing on foot strike.

The way your foot strikes the ground when you run will fall into 3 categories. But it is important to note that 1 foot strike isn’t necessarily always better or worse than another. The most suitable foot strike required may change throughout a run – depending on terrain, ascending/descending hills, when you need to put the pedal to the metal etc.

 

HEEL STRIKE (Heel hits the ground before the rest of your foot)

For adult runners, heel strike is the most common foot strike – here’s why:

If you spend most of your day seated, you’ve probably developed chronically tight hips and sleepy glutes. As a result your stride reaches out much further in front of you than it needs to. This is because you’re not using your glutes, hips and hamstrings to drive your running.

You may have heard the statement HEEL STRIKE is EVIL?
More correctly, OVER-STRIDING is EVIL!
But heel striking will often result in over-striding.

"Over-striding (when your foot hits the ground in front of your body instead of underneath your body) – is like running with your brakes on".

Or another way to think of it is to drive your car with one foot on the accelerator and the other foot on the brake. You are trying to go in a forward direction - running - but every time the heel hits the ground out in front it is actually slowing you down.

So most heel strikers will over-stride, but you can still land with a forefoot or mid-foot strike and over-stride.

A good time to heel strike (throw the brakes on) is when you need to decelerate coming down hills or make a sharp turn.

 

FOREFOOT STRIKE (Forefoot hits the ground first)
  • Body weight is heavily focused onto the ball of the foot and the toes.
  • Heels are likely not hitting the ground between steps.
  • Your upper body may be a little bent forward from the hips.

Forefoot strike is helpful to up your speed towards a finish line or up a small hill. Spending the majority of a long run in this position may lead to tightness and cramping in your calf and achilles complex.

 

MID-FOOT STRIKE  (The middle ground)
It is the most neutral foot strike of the three.

Most of your foot hits the ground at once, underneath your body (not out in front or too far behind). Your torso is balanced even on top of your hips, knees and ankles.

Though you will need to call on your ‘brake’ and ‘gas’ pedals (heel and forefoot strike) at times during a run – you will need to find your version of the mid-foot strike for the majority of your longer runs.

 

The Pitfalls of only focusing on Foot Strike....

So I’ve just talked A LOT about the different foot strikes and how mid-foot strike is most efficient.

BUT – foot strike is not the be all and end all of efficient running. To think of it another way - specific foot strike is not the CAUSE of efficient running, it is the RESULT of efficient running.

The problem with concentrating just on foot strike when running is that it usually results in a runner having a stiff, tight dorsi-flexed ankle at ground contact.  This stiff, rigid ankle inhibits the 33 joints and 20 muscles in each foot from doing their job – acting like a dynamic spring.


Focusing on the following tips will harvest far greater benefit to your running that just focusing on a specific foot strike:

  • Mobility/proprioception/strength exercises to get your feet working like dynamic springs
  • Good posture – think tall, tummy, tail and toes
  • Quicker rhythm / cadence
  • Appropriate drills and movement patterns – eg. low pulls / hammy snaps
  • Strength & conditioning training – esp hips/glutes

Improving the points from above will ultimately improve your foot strike and stop you from over-striding – without you even having to think about your foot strike!

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