Heel strike. Forefoot strike. Mid-foot strike. Barefoot running. Minimalist shoes. Arch support. Motion controlled. “Natural fit”.

Any of this ring a bell? In the running world, there’s a lot of dialogue when it comes to feet. Depending on who you talk to, multiple opinions about your feet are going to weigh in on what’s best for them. Physical therapists, physicians, podiatrists, shoe salesmen, chiropractors, professional runners, writers, researchers, and many others all have a perspective in the field. Essentially, there’s a lot of information out there about feet- and there are a lot of good things to learn from them.

Without getting too broad, we’re here to talk about what your foot (*most feet*) does when you run. This is Phase I of VI in the STRIDE blog detailing this week’s topic: strike patternWhat happens to your foot when you run? How do you make contact with the ground? If you don’t know, you ought; whether heel or forefoot, barefoot or shoes, the way your foot contacts the ground has implications on the rest of your gait cycle.

“Little things make big things happen.” -John Wooden

John Wooden had it right when it came down to habits. It’s said that at the very first practice of each season, the head basketball coach of UCLA would teach all of his players how to properly put their socks on and lace up their basketball shoes. A man who led UCLA to 10 National Championships, among which he led them to win 88 games in a row…led the first part of the season on little details so that his players wouldn’t be prone to getting blisters during games- distracting them from the more important things in the game.

When you run, you spend about 30-40% of time on the ground, and about 60-70% of time airborne (‘flying’, if you will!).  This means that you have less time during your run to absorb the energy you have while in the air, and since you’re running, there’s an even higher amount of force coming into the ground (2.2-2.7x your body weight, typically). What does this mean? It means that about 2.5 times your body weight is coming down to the ground over a thousand times each mile you run; and the first thing that makes contact is your foot. When it comes to running, every little detail matters!

Let’s cover a few important parts about running:

  1. The way your foot hits the ground determines how force is applied to your body.
    • If you heel strike, you’re more likely to have force applied more to knees and hips.
    • Forefoot strike brings more force to the lower leg and foot & ankle.
    • (Check this out for some great details from Harvard University on strike pattern.)
  2. Where your foot contacts the ground is essential.
  3. If you can’t get your leg behind you smoothly when you run, you’re fighting an uphill battle for a smooth strike pattern, whether you heel strike or forefoot strike.

Before we get too far ahead of ourselves don’t forget: your feet matter. Your feet are unique to you; depending on how you use them when you run is also unique to you…and changeable! Seeing and feeling what they do while you run is a great place to start, in order to get a better understanding of your needs as a runner. Do you heelstrike, forefoot strike, overpronate, oversupinate, run inward/outward, overstrike, or understrike? There are a lot of components to consider. Your sense of touch (tactility) plays a large part in all of this, and it’s something we will cover in next week’s blog post. Stay tuned!

For those of you looking for a little more substance, check out the below resources:

A detailed look at how you use your feet and how you, individually, strike is always covered on the in-depth running analysis in the STRIDE Running Clinic. As always- feel free to reach out to learn more.

“When your feet hit the ground, everything changes.”