Flo is one of the bloggers to whom I have referred as taking this training stuff very seriously and thoughtfully. She and I had a back-and-forth on form (I have links to some pictures there) and especially on the subject of heel-striking, and in a more recent post she sent me a link to a Science of Sport post, Heel vs. Midfoot vs. Forefoot: How do elite runners land? (You’ll note SofS as one of my favorite links.) It’s a super post, and I recommend it.

The take-away: elite runners are chiefly either heel strikers or midfoot strikers and there’s no reason to not be the former provided you are not braking with your foot. There’s no data supporting the view that any way of landing is more or less likely to cause injury. If it ain’t broke, etc.

However, if you can gradually change your landing, then I do believe that you can shift your footstrike. But it’s a gradual process. And more important, what is the point? There is no evidence that heel-strikers are injured more, no evidence that mid-foot runners are faster and perform better than heel-strikers, and so the ultimate question is:

Why would you want to change your foot landing to begin with? Science has little to offer you in support of this. And so my advice, having read this far (well done!), is to forget about the possibility that you’re landing “wrongly”, and just let your feet land where, and how they land, and worry about all the other things you can when you run!

If there is one thing you change in your running, don’t focus on your footstrike, but rather on WHERE your feet land relative to your body. Because 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! [Bold in original.]

The comments are integral to the post.

I see sites promoting this, that or the other technique. Brandon posted a video that Newton called “optimal running form.” It’s a silly video, with one stick-figure landing on its heel with the leg well ahead of the body with red “pain” signs shooting up the leg and more vertical than horizontal motion and the other landing on its toes like a chicken clawing the ground. The former is a strawman stick-figure, the latter the “optimal,” although the Newton site itself hedges by claiming that forefoot or midfoot landing is best. Which is good, since I’ve never seen anyone run distances landing on their forefeet. Newton sells shoes that cost about $87.50 each — that’s each shoe — and if you look at the videos on its site, people are trotting along like no one I’ve ever seen. As I said the other day, I watched and it seemed that those in my group were all mid-foot strikers.

In the end, you can tweak technique and it is very useful to concentrate on form in workouts. I recall my old coach Tracy Sundlun advising that you view your arms like pendulums, swinging easily on a nail in the shoulder, to avoid tightening, saving the arms for a power boost on a hill. I try to emulate runners I’ve seen, Ryan Hall and very-good local runner Charles Miers among them, to assist in relaxing.

But before one goes messing with something as significant as footstrike — and in Newton’s defense it makes it clear that any adjustments need to be done gradually — one should think long and hard about changing something with which she has become accustomed. I agree to lessen the bells and whistles of shoes to allow the foot to work naturally. If one feels natural running with a heelstrike, provided it is not braking, I see no reason to change. Fine-tuning, yes.

But to be clear, I’m no expert.

Edited to add the following:

After I posted, WordPress put up possibly related links. I found two interesting.

First is one with a crazy picture, which purports to “tell a thousand words.” Yeah, lots of runners look like the guy on the left.

Second was from marathon-training-program.com (you have to turn the sound off). It had a great description of pawback:

With some exceptions, sprinters usually land on the balls of their feet. Flat-footed landings are more common in middle-distance runners (two to three miles). Heel landings tend to be standard for long-distance runners.

The key element which makes all these landings safe and effective is pawback. Pawback is the name given to the movement in which you bring your foot back just prior to contact with the ground. The term comes from the move a cat makes on a scratching post. If you watch, you will see cats reach up and out slowly and then pull downward, hard and fast, to grab the post.

Sports Drink of Olympic Gold Marathoner with help you qualify for the Boston Marathon In running, you bring the swing leg up and in front of your body, and then bring it back for your landing. You do this for an important reason; it reduces the braking force of your landing. Keep in mind, when you are traveling forward your body has inertia (or momentum) like a flywheel. This means that while your body is in motion, it will continue in that direction unless it is prevented by some other force.

If you landed on your heel in front of your body, it would block your forward progress. As a result, you would experience a shock to your body which, if repeated many times, will lead to an injury.

Further, if you land on your heel with your feet pointing too far upward, this means you did not bring your foot back in a pawback motion. As a result, the inertia of your body goes into your foot, which creates tremendous landing forces. To prove this, take a small running step and land on your heel with your toes high (don’t take a big step, because you can jar your body severely). You will now understand the big force you can experience with this faulty technique. This is why running shoes have built-up heels. They must absorb this force.

From the forward leg position, if you bring your leg backward you will find you can still land on your heel. But it is the front part of your heel, rather than the back part. In this case, immediately on landing you will feel much less force.

In high school, I ran the quarter, and did so on my toes, in spikes. I’m not sure exactly where my foot was in relation to my body when it hit the track, but I was going with sufficient momentum that although it landed ahead of me, there was no braking. I recall thinking of it as grabbing the track and tossing it out the back. It’s a feeling I can duplicate only briefly in pick-ups, and it uses very different muscles from when I am running longer.

[Edited again to add: I came upon a recent article, “To Run Better, Start by Ditching Your Nikes,” which discusses barefoot running. That’s a debate I’m not getting into.]

[Edited yet again to add: I wanted to respond to a couple of comments, but the replies got a bit long so I’ve invoked my ability to put them in the text]

ruggero,

I saw your piece before I did mine and actually included a reference to it in a prior draft. It seems to me that an obsession with one’s stride rate is, like footstrike, something to be avoided. It sounds like one of those Runner’s World articles on “Running Your Best 10K.” Not that stride-rate is irrelevant but that I think it’s the cart that follows the horse. I have no idea what my rate is, and I doubt many runners do, even elites. I agree that you don’t want to be going up and down much (as does the “bad” runner in the Newton video). But it’s not a choice between working on stride rate or working on stride length. As one goes faster, both of those will increase, but I think it’s artificial to worry about how much of one and how much of the other.

Ed Eyestone wrote about stride-rate, of all places, Runner’s World entitled Increase Your Stride Rate. A guy named “Jim,” who’s put up good stuff before, is of my don’t worry about it view.

I fear that people view footstrike and stride-length and how-to-run-up (or down) hill as keys that will unlock the secret of speed. Run comfortably, concentrate on relaxing and running smoothly, and figure out the difference between an interval and a tempo run.

But this reminded me of a Sports Illustrated issue from 1971, which I remember getting. (And, again, if you want a primo read, go to Kenny Moore’s “Best Efforts,” most of which first appeared in SI.) This was an article by Bill Bowerman entitled, “The Secrets of Speed and one of the article’s models was Steve Prefontaine. (The photos are not in the SI archive but I remember them; I had the one of Pre on my wall. You can see them if you go to “View This Issue” link; Pre’s picture is on Page 29. He’s wearing Tigers.)

It’s a good article and somehow one image has stayed with me for the 38 years since it was published: “One good check for overstriding is to focus your eyes on a stationary object in the near foreground, such as a pole or a tree, while running. The object should stay quite level relative to objects in the far distance and not appear to bob up and down excessively. If it is bobbing up and down violently either a terrible earthquake is in progress or you are overstriding.”

Brandon:

I’m no Pose expert and barely know what it is. But here’s a LetsRun thread that went on for 40 pages entitled Pose = Crazy??? That elite distance runners don’t seem to be following Pose, however, suggests that it doesn’t work.

Flo (who is wasting away down in Philly and should high-tail it up to the Big City pronto) did a follow-up on her visit to the gym, Well, That Was Useless.

Now, back when I started running and was sucking up anything I could about running form, I spent a few days checking out the Pose site, so I’m well acquainted with the method. The Pose site has a good collection of videos along with an active forum so there’s lots to see, but after lurking a bit, I realized it wasn’t for me: the method makes running too complicated and after seeing how many people (overwhelmingly young and male) send in their video submissions to be critiqued, only to be told to go back to the drawing board, seemed to me to be a waste of time. I just wanna run.

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