The debate continues — and probably always will — about what is the best foot strike pattern for runners. Should we be touching the ground first with our heels or forefoot?
As usual in these highly contentious areas the answer is: it depends.
It depends on the runner, the distance, terrain, fatigue and of course speed, as well as many other factors too.
I’ve long thought that not only does it depend on all those factors, but also, fundamentally, it doesn’t really matter; we shouldn’t be looking to determine which type of foor strike is ‘best’. For sure there are certain types of foot strike that should be avoided: the over-striding, straight-legged, exaggerated heel strike that has been shown to be inefficient and injury inducing (but it’s nevertheless still very common to see). Also, very pronounced forefoot or even ball-of-foot strike pattern can be very fatiguing on the calf muscles and places the the Achilles tendon at risk injury for many who adopt that running style.
It is always interesting to read the scientific data on foot strike. But most studies are somewhat limited in their application to running in the real world. Usually carried out in the lab (who runs in a laboratory?), involving a very limited amount of typically very specific types of runner. Furthermore, what one study will prove conclusively will often be debunked by another study and we are left asking the question: what does the researcher want us to believe?
What we find more interesting (whilst acknowledging the importance of correctly interpreted scientific studies), is the study of what happens to runners when they are out in their normal environment, i.e. the road, trails and tracks.
One such study was recently made at the Western States 100 mile ultra, and Ian Sharman’s blog has details of the findings.
Perhaps the findings will be surprising to many runners, but maybe not to those who take an avid interest in the subject. Pete Larson, author of the excellent book, Tread Lightly, has some worthwhile comments about the study.
For the rest of us, the message seems to be clear. Different foot-strike patterns suit different situations, and individual runners. There is not necessarily a right or a wrong, and we should be looking at other more relevant indicators when assessing and developing our own running technique.