Feet & Foot Strike

Since 2009, foot strike has been a HOT topic. The book “Born to Run” by Christopher McDougall came out around that time, and the Vibram FiveFingers became popular. People would get in heated debates (and still do) about whether barefoot running and/or minimalist running was/is a good thing. I’m going to share some strong opinions with you, qualifying those opinions with the fact that I don’t know everything and I’m still learning.

I think that foot strike is ancillary to good running form. Is landing on the ball of the foot, the forefoot, or the midfoot best? Maybe. Is landing on the heel bad? Maybe, but not necessarily. When we focus on foot strike and it becomes a primary focus, we can lose sight of what really matters. The most important question is where is the foot landing with respect to the body? Is it landing underneath or close to underneath the body? Or is it landing out in front of the body?

Do this:

Stand somewhere on both feet/legs. Then jump 2-6 inches off the ground and land on your heels, out in front of the body with the legs locked. Before reading on in the book, you gotta do this. I don’t want to spoil it for you, so stop reading and go do this.

Where did you feel the most shock/impact/pressure? Go do it again if you can’t remember. You don’t need to hurt yourself to feel it and get it.

You likely felt it the strongest in your knees, hips, and lower back.You also probably felt the shock radiate through your whole body up through your head. Other places you may have felt it include the achilles, the calf muscles, and the glutes (butt). You may have felt it in other places as well.

Now I want you to go somewhere and jump as high as you can. Reach for the sky, break your vertical jump record, and on your way down get ready for the softest, most quiet impact. Try not to make a sound, cushion your landing as much as possible.

Thousands of micro-jumps is how you run.

What part of the foot hit the ground first? What part of the foot hit second? Were the legs bent or straight? Where did the feet land with respect to your body or center of mass?

Chances are very high that you landed on the balls of your feet, underneath your body or center of mass on a bent leg. Running is a controlled fall. That jumping action was a way to simulate a fall, but with landing on your feet. Running is a controlled fall, a series of controlled falling successions, one after another after a thousand more.

The average person is overstriding, which means their cadence is anywhere from 155-170 steps per minute. If your cadence is 160 steps per minute, during a 30 minute run you will have taken ate least 4,800 steps by the end of the run. Run 30 minutes every day Monday through Saturday and that’s 28,800 steps a week, AT LEAST! If you are landing out in front of your body on your heel, that’s a lot of impact on the knees that SHOULDN’T be happening. People wonder why they get “runner’s knee”. Part of the reason is because most people, and this included myself for years and years, are running wrong.

When you ONLY focus on footstrike, you may have beautiful footstrike, landing nicely on the midfoot during slower training runs and on the forefoot during races, but if you are taking strides that are too long for the speed you’re running, which most people are, then it doesn’t matter how good your foot strike is, you’re still going to get injured and you’re still slowing yourself down.

Overstriding slows you down. Overstriding means taking strides/steps that are too long. A lot of people have heard the saying “lengthen your stride” or “take longer strides and you’ll go faster”. There’s definitely some truth to this, but it’s a little more complicated, and in running can be dangerous. Whether you land on the heel or the forefoot, landing out in front of the body puts the brakes on. Maybe you’re only slowing yourself down by 0.05 seconds per step. That isn’t too bad, right? Let’s do the math. Say you do a 30 minute run, again 4,800 steps. Well 4,800 times 0.05 is 240 seconds divided by 60 equals 4 minutes. That’s significant. You could have run the same distance, four minutes slower, just by changing how you land.

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