Footstrike describes which part of a runner's foot – rearfoot, midfoot or forefoot – makes initial contact with the ground as they run. Everyone has a natural footstrike pattern. Factors such as technique, gradient, surface, running speed, and footwear can all change footstrike pattern.
Midfoot, Forefoot and Rearfoot Footstrikes
Footstrike type may subtly alter the nature of the forces being absorbed by the leg during ground contact. Therefore, changing the footstrike pattern ha been s a popular technique modification in running, yet the benefits are not universally agreed. However, there is still a trend to encourage runners to move away from rearfoot striking, partly because of a common misconception that all elite endurance runners use a midfoot or forefoot striking pattern.
Changing your footstrike pattern
Some reasons are given for encouraging a transition from rearfoot striking to more midfoot or forefoot footstriking include:
- Better running economy
- Reduced impact forces/joint loading
- A redistribution of loading
- Reduced injury risk
To transition footstrike, for example from rearfoot to midfoot, runners should introduce a couple of short sessions or dedicate parts of their sessions to work on running with the adopted footstrike. Then gradually extend the proportion of midfoot landings within their runs. Initially, it is common to experience some lower leg and ankle discomfort as the body adapts to a new footstrike pattern. Most experts recommend doing additional lower leg (calf) strengthening and stretching exercises whilst transitioning to a different footstrike pattern. This helps to accommodate for the higher loading of the lower leg and allows for the maintenance of joint and tendon flexibility. These additional lower leg exercises should also help to reduce the soreness and any discomfort during adjusting to the new footstrike pattern. However, the discomfort persists or running becomes painful, the runner should stop retraining the new footstrike pattern.
Some approaches you can use to help with a footstrike transition include:
- Running with a higher cadence and shorter step length, while at the same time landing the feet under flexing knee.
- Aiming to run softer with less noise at initial contact of the foot with the ground which often has the effect of bringing your footstrike forward with less dorsiflexion (toe up) of the ankle at ground contact.
- A change in footwear, such as different stack height between the front and the back of the shoe (drop), can affect footstrike patterns. A shoe with a lower drop will promote contact towards the front of the foot. A shoe with a higher drop often encourages runners to land on the heel, especially if the forefoot/midfoot footstrike is not a natural pattern. If using this technique to change footstrike pattern, a slow transition in shoe drop height is recommended as it takes for the body several weeks to adapt.