Photo credit: Michael Dawson

At the London 2017 World Track and Field Championships researchers rigged up 49 high speed cameras to capture the biomechanics of the worlds best across the disciplines. During the marathon races cameras captured runners stride, striking patterns, joint angles and the changes that occurred in these parameters as they fatigued. Among the reports put out by the researchers at Leeds Beckett University are some interesting gems that we can take away, below is my favorite. 

Stop caring so much about foot strike patterns 

One train of thought that has gained a lot of traction is that landing on your heel isn’t favorable- that it leads to an increased risk of injury and just slows you down. The popularity in this thought seemed to stem from the release of Christopher McDougall’s book ‘Born to Run’ in 2009. Remember the ‘Breaking 2’ attempt in 2017 lead by Nike aiming for the world’s first sub 2 hour marathon? In developing the shoe for this attempt Nike was heavily focused on this idea of forefoot striking being the most efficient and designed their shoe prototypes around this theory, with one prototype having the entire heel stripped back to save on weight. But pretty much all the elite runners road testing this shoe hated it, so Nike settled on the chunkier Nike Vaporfly. It is true that runners from places that grew up without shoes tend to land on their forefoot and midfoot, and some are incredibly fast and efficient runners, but does this mean that we should all be aiming to stay off our heels when we run?

Out of the 70 male runners captured in this research 67% landed on their heels, 30% landed on their midfoot and only 3% landed on the supposedly favorable forefoot. This was similar to the women’s race, with 73% percent heel striking, 24% midfoot striking and 3% forefoot striking. It wasn’t a pattern that all the forefoot runners were running front of the pack and the heel strikers were lagging behind clutching at their painful joints, in fact all men standing on the podium that year were heel strikers. The results from this study should by no means be read to conclude that heel striking is better, but instead that the idea that forefoot running is the way to reduce injury and speed up performance should be abandoned, allowing people to run instead with their natural striking pattern.  

Running biomechanics is a complex topic that shouldn’t be boiled down to a simple one-size-fits-all approach to what is the “best” running form or technique. This striking myth is one we get questioned about a lot at the Lab. Keep an eye out for future posts that debunk other common running myths.  

About the Author: Hannah Cerecke is a Sports Lab Podiatrist and in-house bike-fitter. Hannah has a firm belief in the importance of holistic care and the benefit of multi-disciplinary management. She assesses not only the foot but takes into consideration whole body movement and lifestyle factors.