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Friday, January 10, 2014

Running - The Hype Of The Foot Strike


           One of the websites, that I came across while researching foot strikes for a paper I had to write, for one of my Graduate school classes was The Science of Sport. The authors at the Science of Sport apply sports science concepts and insights to the sports news that a person is exposed to every day and to the training and performance challenges that people face, regardless of the sport, or the level that people compete at. Great site! I recommend checking it out. 

            In the article, Running technique – The Foot strike, Tucker (2008) points out that there is no evidence that heel-strikers are injured more, no evidence that mid-foot runners are faster and perform better than heel-strikers. Tucker (2008) argues that most people are not elite level runners and therefore, should not try to mimic elite level runner’s foot strikes.

            “If a runner were to change one thing in their running technique, they should not focus on their foot strike, but rather on where their feet land relative to their body. If you are over-reaching and throwing your foot out in front of you, that’s a problem, but what happens when the rubber meets the road is less relevant” (Tucker, 2008).


             In the study, Foot-Strike Pattern and Performance (Kasmer, Liu, Roberts, & Valadao, 2013), it states that foot-strike classification (forefoot, midfoot, heel, or split strike), gender, and rank (position in race) were recorded at the 8.1-km mark for 2112 runners at the 2011 Milwaukee Lakefront Marathon. A significant difference between foot-strike classification and performance was found using a Kruskal-Wallis test (P < .0001), with more elite performers being less likely to heel strike.



             In Running technique – The Foot strike, Tucker (2008), it states that science simply does not know the right answer, only the possibilities in regards to the best foot strike. I believe that foot strike techniques are relative to the individual. Tucker (2008), states that “most of us are nowhere near the elite level, and we’re often told by experts and coaches that the elite are landing on the ball of the foot or the mid foot, and so we should too”. 

I think this is an issue because as the studies show, most runners are heel strikers. Injuries can happen as a result of rapid changes to foot strike, without properly timed adaptation training. What works best for elite level runners may not be suitable for the average person. I support Tucker’s opinion that people should work on where their feet land relative to their bodies first and then worry about the foot strike.


            When science can prove without a doubt, that mid foot and/or fore foot striking techniques are superior to the heel strike, then people can aspire to mimic elite level runners. Until then I will continue to teach my clients all of the techniques and let them choose which is optimal for their running style. 

Proper form and technique are vital for optimal running performance. This includes the total body concept from head to toe. Posture, alignment, hand and arm swing, stride rate and length, foot strike and breathing are all parts of a runner's training focus. Clothing and shoes should be discussed and reviewed as well. The foot strike is just one part of a much larger animal and there is way too much emphasis put on it now.  

I was an avid runner for 25 years. A bad parachute jump landing ended my regular running days. I used the heel strike out of necessity, due to flat feet. I could not use the other techniques. Fore foot and mid foot strikes during distance runs, hurt my knees. In my prime, I managed to pull off a PR of a 5 minute mile. That was sonic boom stuff for my over 200lb ass. And that was using a heel strike and a wide stride. 



Some people do better with one technique over others. I believe that foot strikes are relative to the individual runner and that they should use the technique best suited for their body type and running style. Just because the fore foot, mid foot, bare foot and minimalist techniques are popular now, it does not mean that they are the best choice for everyone. Use whatever works best for you.                                                                                                         

References

Kasmer, M., Liu, X., Roberts, K. G., & Valadao, J. M. (2013).  Foot-Strike Pattern and Performance in a Marathon. International Journal of Sports Physiology & Performance. 

Tucker, R. (2008). Running technique: The Footstrike. The Science of Sport. http://www.sportsscientists.com/2008/04/running-technique-the-footstrike/

Eric Dempsey
NASM Certified Personal Trainer

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