Learning how to stop heel striking is much easier if you have an understanding of what heel striking actually is, why it occurs and how it impacts your running.
Heel striking is the most common foot strike when it comes to running – but that doesn’t mean it’s the most effective. In fact, heel striking can actually lead to a variety of injuries and even poorer performance.
What is heel striking in running?
When a runner heel strikes, they are hitting the ground with their heel first in each step. It is the most common foot strike, and often wrongly associated with proper “running form”. In most cases, heel striking occurs due to overstriding or improper form.
Most runners are surprised to learn that there is a different, and even better, way to adjust their stride. Landing with a midfoot strike can help reduce the risk of injury and potentially even help a runner gain speed.
3 Running Foot Strikes
There are three different styles of foot strikes, each of which involves landing on a different area of the foot. Here is a quick breakdown of the three different running foot strikes.
- Heel Strike – Occurs when a runner lands on the heel first; this is the least effective foot strike
- Midfoot Strike – Occurs when a runner lands on the middle portion, or the ball, of their foot; in most cases, this is the most effective foot strike
- Forefoot Strike – Occurs when the runner lands on the top portion of their foot first, near the toes; this is not very common, but incredibly ineffective
Is it okay to heel strike when running?
Just about every runner will have their heel strike the ground at some point while running. However, landing heel first, in most cases, is more detrimental than helpful. For the majority of runners, it is beneficial to avoid heel striking when running.
Unfortunately, many runners are unaware of their foot strike and find it hard to analyze on their own. Once they do become aware that they are heel striking, it’s difficult to fix as it has become such a habit.
How to Stop Heel Striking When Running
Luckily, though, with a bit of intentionality and a few specific tricks, it is possible to stop heel striking when running. Setting aside a bit of time each run to perform some drills and be focused on your foot strike can help change your landing and eventually stop heel striking altogether. Here are a few strategies to use to stop heel striking when running.
Running Form Drills
Incorporating a few drills designed to help improve running form can also help prevent and fix heel striking. These drills take only a few minutes to complete, but when completed regularly, they can help improve your posture and stride.
Try adding these drills into your warm up routine – or if you don’t have time, designate a specific day of the week to focus on working through the drills.
- Butt kicks – run forward slowly, bringing your heel up to kick your butt with each step
- Carioca – moving laterally, cross one foot in front of the other, and then bring the other foot around behind; continue moving sideways alternating crossing in front and behind the grounded foot
- High knees – run in place, bringing your knees up as high as possible with each movement
- Power skips – skip forward slowly, exaggerating each movement to bring the knee up towards the chest, as high as possible
Completing a few strides while barefoot after each run can help the body naturally adjust the stride length and bring awareness to the foot strike. Find an open space, long enough to decelerate at the end without being cut off, and sprint as fast as possible for a few yards.
Pay special attention to what you feel in your feet with each landing – notice where you are striking first and how natural the stride feels.
One of the most effective ways to stop heel striking when running is to adjust your cadence. Most runners who heel strike are doing so because their stride is too long, causing their cadence to be too slow.
To avoid having too long of a stride, focus on your running cadence. The ideal running cadence is 180 bpm. Anything slower is a sign that you are taking too long of a step on the run.
Increasing your running cadence takes a bit of time and effort, but certainly pays off. You’ll need to spend a few days or weeks running only on the treadmill, with a metronome in your ear. Set the treadmill to your usual pace and your metronome to 180 bpm. Focus on striking the ground with each click of the metronome.
After some time, your body will start to adjust and form a new habit. Once this cadence has begun to feel normal, take your running back outside. Continue listening to the metronome while running at your normal pace, focusing on lining up your steps with the clicks that you hear.
Products to Prevent Heel Striking
There are a few types of running products that can help prevent and avoid heel striking. These products certainly aren’t a magic fix, but can help reduce the degree to which you heel strike or make it harder to do so.
Running shoes that are more minimal, with less support and structure, often help bring awareness to the footstrike. Minimalist shoes often force runners to run more naturally, correcting improper form. Wearing racing shoes or track flats for speed work can also help in a similar way, preventing an overstride from developing when running fast.
Heel Striking Injuries in Runners
The main reason to stop heel striking when running is to avoid injuries. While heel striking certainly has the potential to slow you down, there is an even greater risk that it will result in injuries over time.
Heel striking while running puts added stress on muscles, bones and ligaments in the legs – such as the Achilles tendon, the IT band, calves and shins. This increased stress, along with the extra work it takes to maintain a longer stride, can result in a variety of injuries.
- Knee pain
- Achilles tendonitis
- Shin splints
- IT Band issues
- General lower leg pain
Runners who end up with these types of injuries are often heel strikers. While heel striking might not be the only cause of the injury, it certainly contributes to the severity and length of time it takes to develop.
Being proactive by stopping heel striking before injury occurs can prevent many long term issues and help you reach your full potential.
Running Shoes for Heel Striking
Luckily, since heel striking has become so common, there are quite a few running shoes designed specifically to minimize or help prevent the effects of heel striking. Here are some of the most popular, well-known running shoes that are beneficial for heel strikers.
- Brooks Glycerin
- Asics Gel-Cumulus
- Brooks Adrenaline GTS
- Mizuno Wave Rider
- Saucony Ride
- Nike Air Zoom Pegasus
- Adidas Solarglide
Educating yourself, evaluating your own stride, and taking action to prevent or stop heel striking when running will set you up to achieve your maximum potential.
Injury prevention is key for any runner who plans to train long-term – and most don’t realize this until it’s too late. Following these steps will help avoid any future issues and allow you to nail that next PR!