Why Heel Striking is Bad
Heel striking is less than ideal because you’re creating greater force that your body cannot necessarily withstand. After miles and miles, your body will begin to break down at a faster rate than a forefoot runner.
Heel striking is comparable to driving in your car, trying to go faster while also pressing the brake. Striking the ground with your heel, in essence, is breaking your forward momentum and driving your weight and force into the ground instead of over the ground. Landing on your heel slows you down, but more importantly creates a force that must be dissipated by the rest of your bones, muscles, and tendons.
Ideally, when your lead foot is making contact with the ground, your hips and shoulders should be over that soon to be planted foot. In most cases, your hips and shoulders are behind that planted foot. This slows down the cycle (your trail leg becoming your plant leg). When this cycle is slowed, you spend more time with your foot on the ground, rather than pushing off for the next stride.
More often than not, what I see as a coach is a foot that is planted on the ground and the runner’s hips are trailing behind. Instead, what would be more beneficial and energy efficient would be to see the hips directly above the foot that is planted on the ground. The time it takes for a runner’s hips to come through and align with the planted foot is why your feet are on the ground longer (heel striking, rolling through to forefoot, then pushing off with your big toe).
To increase your speed and your ground-contact-time, your hips must be aligned with your foot coming in contact with the ground.
Why Forefoot Landing is Better
Forefoot running is a better option for runners because we’re spending less time on the ground per stride. Simply put, when we’re landing on our forefoot, we do not have a lot of foot left on the ground before we have to push off again.
To do this effectively, think about having a forward lean where gravity helps you. I practice this by “pulling” or leading with my belly button. When I do this, gravity is helping “push” me forward.
When our hips are above our planted foot, we then need to pull our heel from the ground to our upper hamstring. This can happen at a faster rate when our hips are in the proper position (above the foot).
When this cycle is slowed – either because you are landing on your heel or your hips aren’t in position – you spend more time with your foot on the ground, rather than pushing off for the next stride.
Ultimately, forefoot landing is more efficient.
What Better Form Should Look Like
When looking at a runner with efficient form, you should see very little wasted motion. All motion and energy should be used to propel a runner forward. Efficient running form should look smooth and fluid. It shouldn’t be choppy or unnatural. Good running form should include arms pumping back and forth with little to zero side to side motion.
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Some things you might see from an efficient runner include arms that form 90 degree angles and thumbs pointing up.
You will see knees driving forward and minimal back kicking. You’ll see a runner landing on their forefoot and their trail leg traveling quickly up toward their upper hamstring before being pulled in front of them for another knee drive.
How to Improve Running Form
For a stronger midsection (everyone can benefit from this), I would focus primarily on creating a stronger core. A stronger core will provide the strength needed to keep you propped up using less energy. You’ll be able to carry your hips through cycle easier.
Having stronger hips and glutes will give you the strength to keep your hips, knees and ankles aligned and use less energy to manage it.
To maximize stride length, you’ll want to work on general strength training. Finding and executing a strength training program will give you a stronger foundation for the running requirements you’re asking of your body.
Exercises to Reinforce Proper Running Form
To assist with pronation, you’ll want to get your shoes assessed at a reputable running store (Haddonfield Running Company) and bring in your old/current shoes so they can confirm your pronation. Being in a stability shoe will assist in keeping your ankle from excessive pronation.
For arms crossing across your center line, be aware of this happening on a run and bring thumbs pointed up. You want your elbows to your side (back and forth), not swinging around your torso. Using a mirror during a treadmill run may also help.
For creating 90 degree angles with your arms, think “cheek to cheek” – from butt to jaw – with your arm swing. You won’t necessarily get to both, but the goal should be to get close to both.For the heel striking, I suggest working on leading with your belly button (center of gravity) and having a forward lean. This can be worked on with core training (stronger midsection as well as being on the balls of your feet while doing the legs up the inseam drill).
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Marc is a USATF Track and Field & Dr. Jack Daniels VDOT O2 certified running coach. I have more than 19 years of experience running and more than 10 years of experience coaching runners. Click for more information!
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