When looking for sound advice on improving running efficiency it is important to be aware of misguided advice based upon marketing gimmicks rather than scientific and practical evidence. There is a lot of outdated and incorrect information around, and it’s our job to try and help you find advice that will help rather than hinder!
Buying correct footwear
The world of running shoes is a confusing place for many right now with highly cushioned, minimal and barefoot shoes all being advertised as the best thing since sliced bread. I would imagine there is someone somewhere as you are reading this telling somebody that the more heel cushioning they have the less likely it is that they are going to get injured. This simply isn’t the case.
When the heel-toe drop (this is the difference between heel height and forefoot height) is increased, the ankle is placed in a position that causes it to be in a constant state of plantar flexion, causing the muscles in the lower leg to be overactive. While many running shoe brands initially sniggered at the minimalist shoe companies such as Vibram and Vivobarefoot preaching the barefoot word, many are now in a period of transitioning their shoes to compete in the modern market. Saucony for example have altered even their highly cushioned shoes to reduce the heel-toe drop to between 4-12mm depending on the model. They have also produced the Hattori, which has zero drop and weighs less than the box it is sold in! This places the foot in a flatter position, which in turn reduces the plantar flexion in the ankle joint and encourages more of a mid-foot strike rather than a heel strike.
Heel Strike vs Mid-foot Strike
Many runners want to improve their performance but have never considered how they run. Go and watch a local race some time and even near the front of the race I promise you will see some actions that can best be described as “different”!
Many people heel strike through habit and perhaps more worryingly we have come across people here at FST Running that have been TOLD to heel strike by their personal trainer! Biomechanical studies have shown that heel striking creates excessive ground reaction forces. This increases the pressure on the joints and increases the risk of injury when compared to mid-foot striking. Trying to jump while resting back onto your heels will quickly demonstrate to those in doubt how difficult it is to generate force due to the impact being absorbed by the heels.
How do I transition to a mid-foot strike?
If heel striking is a habit you have developed over a long period of time it is important to not attempt to change the world in your 1st few sessions as a ‘mid-foot striker’. Jumping straight into a pair of zero drop barefoot running shoes and tip-toeing your way to a Half Marathon PB is likely to end in misery! If you are not comfortable with the idea of running trainers with no cushioning, look into the expanding market of minimalist shoes. Saucony, Brooks, Newton and even Sketchers have shoes on the market right now that will help you to transition with that ‘safety net’ of cushioning for when you are unable to hold your form.
Increasing your cadence or stride frequency is a simple way to help the transition process. Many of the elite runners have stride frequencies of around 180 strides per minute. If you attempt to replicate this frequency for short periods during a run you will soon realise that it becomes very difficult to heel strike, and you will naturally adopt a mid-foot landing. You will also be able to bask in the glory of knowing that once this is mastered, you are only an increased stride length away from being up there with the Kenyans!
For any further advice or if you would like to pop in and see us, please don’t hesitate to contact us.
Good luck and happy running!