Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Running Form Part: Foot Strike

Monday night our running group asked Elizabeth Primrose CSCS, NCCP to join us to analyze our running form and provide suggestions on how to improve it. While I had hoped for a more individualized assessment (which wasn't possible because more than just us "regulars" came out because of her appearance) she did give me somethings to think about. 

First of all, who is Elizabeth Primrose? I didn't know either, but according to her bio she is definitely a good choice for someone to give advice on running form. 

Elizabeth Primrose CSCS, NCCP
As the first ever Canadian Professional Triathlon Champion in 1988 and the 2011 Ontario Professional Triathlon Champion, Elizabeth knows how important quality coaching is for achieving high performance and for staying healthy from year to year.

In addition to her triathlon successes, Elizabeth placed 5th at the 2011 World Snowshoe Running Championships, was the 2009 Canadian Masters Cross Country Running champion and won the 2008 Niagara Falls International Marathon. She credits proper planning, well designed training programs and strength training for keeping her competitive as an elite runner and triathlete for more than 25 years.

Elizabeth is a certified strength and conditioning specialist (CSCS) with the YMCA and a certified distance running, triathlon and swim coach with the National Coaching Certification Program (NCCP). She was the dryland coach at Rocky Island Swim & Tri Club in Huntsville from 2010 to 2012 and for the Huntsville Otters Hockey Club in 2010 and 2011.
The focus of her short time with us was where our foot was striking the ground when we run. She noted perfect running form would be that our toe box should strike first and we should think about pushing off with our big toe. I would say most runners (including myself) do not run like this. When we were practicing this with her most of us were saying how "unnatural" it felt. 

I run with my heel striking first. As does many of the people I run with - so should we all work on a mid foot or fore front strike when it doesn't appear to be a "natural" form for us?

I did a bit more research on this topic because it just didn't feel good to me to run with my toe box striking first - I was picturing shin splints and tight calves after my run because it felt like I was running on my tippy toes! 

My go-to source for all things running Runner's World had this to say about foot strike:
To run well, you need to push off the ground with maximum force. With each step, your foot should hit the ground lightly -- landing between your heel and midfoot -- then quickly roll forward. Keep your ankle flexed as your foot rolls forward to create more force for push-off. As you roll onto your toes, try to spring off the ground. You should feel your calf muscles propelling you forward on each step. Your feet should not slap loudly as they hit the ground. Good running is springy and quiet.

Perfect Running Form - Runner's World

I wouldn't describe my running as springy, but it is quiet. So maybe I'm doing something "right"?!?
I also came across this blog post at by a physical therapist. He gives a good break down of the good and bad of heel striking while running. 

Running Form

He states that heel strike is bad for long distance running while it's ideal for walking. A heel strike means more of your foot hitting the ground. A forefoot landing is bad for long distance running, but ideal for sprinting. A midfoot strike is ideal for long distance running because "less time with your foot on the ground = less slowing down of your body".

So why would anyone heel strike if it's slowing us down? I had experienced some plantar fasciitis in my left heel when we first moved to Canada. I ultimately figured out it was because I was standing on a hard tile kitchen floor most of the day in just socks or bare feet. Once I started wearing "house shoes" things got better. 

Fast forward to Tuesday morning - the morning after I was attempting to run with a forefoot landing - I have left heel pain!! Ugh! I'm glad I did a bit of research on this foot striking thing with running. I'm not a sprinter nor do I want to be so I shouldn't be attempting a forefoot landing. A mid foot strike is more ideal. Here's an explanation of why according to the physical therapist on

Here is why forefoot landing is bad for distance running (but ideal for sprinting):
  • Overuse of calf muscles which causes significant fatigue, as well as Achilles tendon issues, and often plantar fasciitis due to poor lower leg translation over the ankle joint.
  • Landing on the forefoot puts significant increased stress on significantly small bones. Look at how thick and dense your heel is compared with the bones that make up our toes. This can quickly lead to stress fracture.
So, to say one style of running is “better” is not accurate – what makes sense on paper and in an ideal person doesn’t always pan out in reality. I ascribe to following the evidence and research whenever available. Midfoot landing with running makes the most sense, but cannot be generalized. It has flaws too. Trust me, this is not going to be a popular answer, but there is NO WAY – NO WAY to address proper running form in most persons, let alone to be able to say what the best technique is for all.
Like I said, I'm naturally a heel striker with running - apparently that isn't the way to go either and maybe more of my problem with my heel pain. 
Here is why heel strike is bad for running (while it is ideal for walking):
  • When your heel accepts the force of your body weight, your foot is rigid (locked). This translates the shock out of your foot/ankle, but usually places it up to the knee and back.
  • When your foot lands in front of your body, your IT band (a band that runs from your hip down the outside of your thigh to just under your knee) becomes overactive. This can result in generalized knee pain, also known as patella-femoral syndrome as well as hip bursitis.
  • Tendency for longer strides, which are not natural and often don’t work for efficiency.
  • Over-striding also typically leads to the overuse of the hamstring muscles with a heel strike.
I'm coming away with a couple of things from Elizabeth Primrose coming to meet with our group and researching this a bit more. 
* It is impossible to give a generalized description of running form. What works for one person isn't going to necessarily work for the masses. 
* It makes sense that a mid foot strike is beneficial to avoid the heel pain I'm experiencing and to lighten my step.

My overall conclusion on this is that I need to do more research, experiment with my foot strike placement on different runs and find what works best for me, my body and the distance I will be working up to. 

No comments:

Post a Comment