Despite the media momentum surrounding barefoot running, forefoot running and alike, you can still go to any distance running event and clearly observe that the vast majority of runners are indeed heel strikers. This isn’t a problem in it self, as running technique is about far more than simply how the foot strikes the ground.
Despite what the barefoot zealots will tell you, there is a distinct lack of scientific evidence that one kind of foot strike pattern over another is more or less likely to result in injury, or indeed enhance efficiency.
Just as important as HOW the foot hits the ground, is WHERE this occurs… Regardless of the foot strike pattern (heel strike vs forefoot), the goal should be to address the ground without over striding. By over striding, as distance athletes we mean landing the foot ahead of the knee and by proxy ahead of your centre of mass. To simply explain – as soon as you land the foot ahead of the knee you’re essentially applying the brakes more than is efficient at a given running pace.
Research tells us that increasing running cadence for a given pace by 5-10% has an effect of reducing stride length (reducing knee and hip loading). However, as a coach it’s commonly evident that simply increasing cadence isn’t enough to stop an athlete from over striding. You need to re-establish the correct pattern of the swinging leg in running gait.
Running gait is cyclical. At any given point, the quality of the movement immediately previous in the pattern determines what happens next, and how. With this in mind, referencing foot strike as the outcome, it’s how the leg moves through swing phase of gait, particularly hip flexion and knee flexion combined (at peak knee lift) that influences how the foot then hits the ground.
It’s a common pattern that we see in runners who display low peak knee and hip flexion during swing phase (for a given pace), that they run with an increased tendency to over stride, almost always with a heel striking pattern. Interestingly, as soon as we use drills such as that in the video above, to coach increased hip and knee flexion during swing phase, we see changes in foot strike – the foot begins to make contact beneath a flexing knee as desired, rather than out in front of a more extended, less efficient knee position.
If you feel you currently over stride, next time you run try thinking about gently picking your foot up a little higher and lifting your knee a little higher, both at the same time. As you gently improve your ‘triple flexed’ position you should notice your foot strike moving to occur closer to under your body.
Drills such as this form an important part of our popular Online Running Technique Course (click for limited 50% discount). It always amazes me how a few simple cues can transform a runner’s performance and injury risk 🙂