Have you been tempted to try and change your running technique to adopt a forefoot or midfoot striking contact pattern? Making such a fundamental change at foot-level has certainly be en vogue amongst runners and triathletes in recent years, with lots of media rhetoric and pseudo-science fuelling the fire.
Research is sketchy at best in terms of which type of foot strike is most efficient, and less likely to result in injury – with the most sensible current outcome being that some runners will be more or less suited to forefoot running depending on many factors.
In the many distance runners and triathletes I meet who have tried to self-coach a change in contact pattern to adopt a forefoot strike, there is one overwhelming mistake I see them making, often resulting in injury to the calf and achilles tendon complex: The tendency to run too far forwards ‘on their toes’, not allowing their heel to touch the ground AT ALL.
While this kind of forefoot strike pattern feels wonderfully light and efficient in the short-term, it often this leads to injury as we increase the training load.
In the video above, I describe the differences between the foot contact of a sprinter and that of a distance athlete. Sprinters need to be able to run with a relatively aggressive forefoot contact pattern, with a super-short contact time, and a great deal of rigidity held in their foot and ankle complex to transfer force. As such their heels don’t touch the ground at any point during stance phase. Sprint spikes are designed with this in mind!
However, that may be appropriate for sprinters, but most of us are endurance athletes and distance runners… not sprinters!
Distance runners and triathletes should be sure to consider the specific demands of our sport. For us, where efficiency is more important than pure power, an effective running form is one that achieves the best trade-off between efficiency (metabolic) and sustainability (injury resilience).
In particular, for those racing 5-10km and longer, an effective forefoot or midfoot strike can’t sustainably require you to remain ‘on your toes’ throughout stance phase, in the way that we’d expect to see from a sprinter. Remaining on your forefoot throughout stance phase, not allowing the heel to ‘kiss the ground’ as the foot loads maximally, increases demand on the calf and achilles complex, as it has to work excessively to resist the natural dorsiflexion expected at the ankle during mid-stance phase of running gait.
Over time, the majority of runners and triathletes who find themselves doing this will, in my experience end up with some sort of lower leg injury.
Instead this is what you should be aiming for: Immediately after initial contact with the forefoot (ball of the foot), allow the foot and ankle to relax allowing the heel to come into contact with the ground as the foot loads maximally and passes under your body as you move forwards.
This important touch-down of the heel on the ground, secondary to the forefoot strike allows the calf and achilles complex to load eccentrically and store energy, doing what it mechanically does best!
This ‘feel the heel touch-down’ has been the most important factor in successful transition to a forefoot / midfoot strike in the many triathletes and runners I’ve helped to develop a more sustainable and efficient running, on our Online Running Technique Course (limited 50% discount).
The take-home message is fairly simple this time: if you’re trying to change your running form to more of a forefoot or midfoot strike, make sure you feel for the heel ‘kissing the ground’ with each foot contact!