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Heel Striking: Root Of All Evil

by | In Depth Articles

Many runners are still being told by shoe shop staff, personal trainers or other therapists that the way to become a better runner and/or avoid injury is to change their heel strike to a midfoot or forefoot strike. Unfortunately, it’s not that simple and despite the good intention it is delivered with, advice like this can even cause injury.


Why is Heel Striking seen as bad?

The rise in popularity for barefoot running and minimalistic footwear brought about in particular by the publication of Chris McDougall’s best-selling novel ‘Born To Run’ in 2009 stimulated debate on not only what we should wear on our feet when running but also what part of the foot should touch the ground first – the heel, the midfoot or the forefoot.

Unfortunately, passion and enthusiasm for this fresh way of looking at running led to a lot of ‘personal’ experience being pushed as ‘fact’ and careful selection & interpretation of some research being promoted as ‘scientific evidence’ that to become a stronger and more injury free runner you need to wear as little as possible on your feet and land on the midfoot or forefoot.

The fact that no such scientific evidence exists hit home in 2014 when Vibram, who launched their popular FiveFingers shoes in 2009, ended up paying a $3.75 million settlement agreement in a class action lawsuit that accused them of making false claims about the health benefits of FiveFingers shoes. Vibram agreed not to make any further claims of such health benefits until “competent and reliable scientific evidence” substantiates such claims.

Is Heel Striking Less Efficient?

Claims that heel striking is ‘inefficient’ for distance runners are likewise unfounded. In fact, most scientific studies measuring foot strike patterns show the opposite – for the vast majority of runners (especially sub-elite and recreational runners), heel striking is the most metabolically efficient form of running over long distances.

Dr. Pete Larson, self confessed running shoe addict, creator of highly recommended website Runblogger and author of best seller “Tread Lightly: Form, Footwear, and the Quest for Injury-Free Running, carried out a study at the 2009 Manchester City Marathon. Using a high speed camera, Larson filmed runners at the 10km and 32km points of the race, and later classified them according to their foot strike:

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