Your running foot strike plays a key role in overall form and efficiency. Since gait varies from one runner to the next, taking the time to analyze your own foot strike could help prevent injuries and inefficiency during training.
There are three different types of running foot strikes: heel strike, midfoot strike and forefoot strike. Although we each have a natural tendency towards one style of foot strike, avoiding certain pitfalls can help maximize our potential as a runner.
What part of the foot should strike first when running?
Unfortunately, there is no single answer when it comes to the proper foot strike. Our individual style varies greatly depending on gait, so what works for one runner might be different for another.
However, there are a few general guidelines to keep in mind in order to maintain proper running form in your feet.
When your foot first strikes the ground, the majority of your foot placement should be under your hips. Landing too far forward or in front of your hips is more likely to strain your lower leg muscles.
In most cases, aiming to land towards the center of your foot, or running with a midfoot strike, will help minimize the stress on your lower leg muscles to reduce your chance of injury or heel spurs.
In order to evaluate your own foot strike and maintain proper running form, you’ll need to understand each of the three styles of foot strikes.
3 Running Foot Strike Styles
This style of foot strike involves landing on the heel, or rear, of your foot – the first point to come in contact with the ground is your heel.
Heel strike running comes naturally to some runners who are taller and have a wider gait. However, landing on your heel can become a problem if you are over-striding and landing with your foot in front of your hips.
This style of foot strike involves landing in the center, or midsection, of your foot – the first point to come in contact with the ground is the middle of your foot.
Running with a midfoot strike is often viewed as the healthiest form for your feet, as this foot strike usually creates the least amount of strain for your lower leg muscles.
However, if a midfoot strike causes you to bend your knee or lean forward past your hips, a different style of foot strike is most likely needed with your gait.
This style of foot strike involves landing on the front of your foot, near the toes – the first point to come in contact with the ground is the top of your foot or the toes.
Running with a forefoot strike can often lead to a variety of issues, such as creating abnormal strain on your calves due to landing on or near your toes. A forefoot strike is the least common running foot strike, due to the fact that it feels unnatural for most runners.
3 Foot Landings During a Foot Strike
In addition to the different types of running foot strikes, there are also a few different foot landings that can occur with each step. If you are struggling to maintain proper running form in your feet but are already using the best foot strike for your gait, analyzing your landing may help clear up address any issues.
- Neutral – This occurs when the heel and toe are both straightforward when landing
- Supination – This occurs when the foot rolls outwards when landing
- Pronation – This occurs when the foot rolls inward, toward the arch, when landing
What is a proper running foot strike?
Understanding the different styles of foot striking is only helpful if you know what is healthy and best for your own gait. Although there is not one running foot strike that is best for every single person, there are still a few guidelines that apply to us all.
Proper running foot strike could be a heel strike, midfoot strike or forefoot strike depending on your body size, shape and gait. However, for all runners, the best foot strike is one that is the most efficient and places the least amount of strain on your lower leg muscles.
For most runners, the healthiest foot strike is a midfoot strike. It usually places the least amount of strain on those lower body muscles, and therefore is the least likely to lead to an injury.
In general, proper running form for all runners means that you are landing with your knee slightly bent, and the point of initial contact is beneath your knee and hips. You will know that it’s the best running foot strike because it feels natural with your stride.
If you find that you are landing with your front leg completely straight, you are likely over-striding. In contrast, if you find that you are landing with your knee very bent and upper body leaning forward, you might be under-striding. Landing on your toes is rarely, if ever, a healthy foot strike.
How to Determine Your Running Foot Strike
Aside from being truly aware and focusing on where your foot lands with each step, there are a few simple ways to determine your own running foot strike.
The easiest way to analyze your own foot strike is to look at the bottom of your shoes. If you have been using your running shoes for a little while, you’ll likely find that some areas of the soles are more worn than others.
Look for the areas with the most wear to determine where your foot comes in contact with the ground most often. If you find that the heel of your sole is the most worn, you are most likely running with a heel strike. Similarly, if the middle of your shoe is most worn, you likely have a midfoot strike; wearing on the top of your sole likely points to a forefoot strike.
Another way to determine your running foot strike is to take pictures or video of yourself on the run. Setting your camera or phone to take multiple pictures within a few seconds will help you see your entire stride.
How to Improve Your Foot Strike for Running
Regardless of what you find when you analyze your running foot strike, if you are not experiencing any injuries or discomfort, you likely don’t need to make any changes.
On the other hand, if you discover that you are heel striking or forefoot striking and have been experiencing some aches and pains on the run, you might choose to make some changes to your running foot strike.
When seeking to improve your foot strike, or any other aspect of your running form, it’s important to avoid making big changes and focus on making small changes over time.
The best way to improve your running foot strike is to strengthen key muscles in your legs. Focusing on strength training in your hips and glutes will improve the power of your stride, and might be all it takes for your body to adjust on its own.
Related: Hip Mobility and Strengthening Exercises for Runners
After strengthening your hips and glutes, try incorporating plyometrics or other quick agility movements in your training. These types of exercises promote strength and balance in those little muscles within your lower leg, helping your body naturally find its healthiest running foot strike.
If your running foot strike has been causing a great deal of issues during training, you can also try shortening your stride and increasing your cadence.
Rather than focusing on trying to land on a different area of the foot, try shifting your focus to strengthening the surrounding muscles and encouraging optimal running form throughout the rest of your body.
Before you know it, your feet will follow suit and your foot strike will adjust naturally.