Updated: Jun 15, 2021
I get asked this question a lot, is heel striking or forefoot striking better? In order to answer that question we need to understand the mechanics behind this. It's important that I stress that I’m sharing my experiences and what I remember from what I’ve read about run form. Try the exercises at the end and listen to your body, if it hurts, then whatever you’re doing is not working for you. Like all the blogs in this series, these are mechanisms that you can play with when you feel an ache or pain. The more you play with these aspects of run form, the deeper your understanding of what works for you will become. Do not continue with something that works for me if it gives you pain. If you’re ever in doubt, always seek a professional about pain.
Center of Gravity
Before we talk about heel and forefoot striking, we need to talk about your center of gravity. When you are standing straight, your center of gravity is over your body. If you lean forward, you shift your center of gravity and start to fall forward. For most of us, before we fall down, our body will instinctively put one foot out and stabilize us.
The foot reaches out in front of you (and your center of gravity) to oppose the forward momentum you created. To make this more clear, for running, when you lean forward by shifting your center of gravity forward, you gain forward momentum. If your foot reaches out in front of your center of gravity, when the foot hits the ground, there will be an opposing force that counters or stabilizes that forward momentum. If you’re trying to stand still, this is great! It’ll help you stay in the same spot. If you’re running, this actually works against you. It doesn’t matter if you are heel striking or forefoot striking, when your foot lands in front of your center of gravity it will generate an opposing force that slows you down.
The general idea for running is that if you lean forward you will start falling forward. You want to conserve as much of that forward momentum as possible by minimizing that opposing force that comes from your foot landing in front of your center of gravity. So ideally your foot will land directly under your center of gravity. Easier said than done, but that's the theory.
Keep in mind that the best way to get better at this is through practice and practice is much easier when you are running slow. It’s also much easier to practice this when you’re taking shorter strides. Think about practicing hammering a nail. It's easier to practice when you’re taking small swings, than giant swings… and the consequences are less if you miss too.
If you accept the premise behind landing your feet below your center of gravity, you’ll quickly see that it's hard to run with your foot under your center of gravity and land on your heels. Generally speaking, heel striking is an indication that your foot is landing in front of your center of gravity.
So then it must be better to land on your forefoot, right? Well, I wish it was that simple. You also have a mid foot which includes your arch. From what I have read your arch was ‘designed’ to absorb impact and react like an elastic band giving you some energy back from the impact.