Monday, October 29, 2012

Long live the heel strike

Me and Deena seem to have more in common than I thought...




Looks like we BOTH heel strike.
Thanks for pointing that out Kate.

Maybe we really are meant to be BFF's.

I found it interesting how many people said that they heel strike recently in the commentary of this posting. These days there seems to be a major anti-heel striking movement where in the opinions of some, the offenders are guilty of a major crime where they need to be burned at the stake and stripped of their running privileges. With trends like the 0mm heel lift, minimalists shoes, and the craze to be a mid-foot or fore-foot striker, it seems like there aren't many people who are willing to openly come out and say...

"Hey, I heel strike...and you know what, I think it's okay"
So I'm saying it for those who feel like they can't. 

I'm not a doctor or foot specialist, I haven't studied biomechanics or read all of the mumbo-jumbo information out there supporting or objecting to the ideal natural running gait. But I have been running since I was 12 where I have seen a whole slew of overuse injuries and even done my own fair share of tinkering with my own gait, where in the end it always ends up the same for me...with the heel strike.

All I really have on my side is logic, and my logic tells me that while we all are made up of the same parts that doesn't necessarily mean that we all are going to function identical to one another.

What works for one person doesn't always work for another person, and who are we to tell our bodies how they are supposed to function?

I tried the whole mid-foot strike transition last year. Dropped the $175 on a pair of crazy orange Newtons that I was convinced would help my legs turnover quicker and guide me more towards that ideal mid-foot strike everyone raves on and on about. After months of slowly building up the distance and time spent in the shoes, I realized that the second I would stop thinking about how my foot was striking would be the exact moment that my legs would once again embrace the heel-strike just like an old friend that they hadn't seen in awhile and couldn't get enough of. It became mentally exhausting to go for even an easy run where my mind had to be fully engaged with what was going on at the feet the entire time, and almost every time I picked up the pace the mid-foot strike was completely gone. It made running too scientific and not fun for me, so I gave up my conquest to find that beautiful mid-foot strike and have instead decided to embrace my grace lacking heel strike.

My non-officially scientific opinion is this...

All of our bodies are biomechanically engineered differently, meaning that we all aren't going to operate the same. What works for one person doesn't necessarily work for another. If you are naturally a mid-foot striker and it feels normal to you, than consider yourself blessed. I'm not now, nor will I most likely ever be, a mid-foot striker...and I no longer care if this makes my running look ugly. 

Ugly turnovers can move just as quick as graceful turnovers.
And sometimes even faster.

You can spew all the research at me you want, and reading this may make some runners cringe, but I say long live the heel strike.

38 comments:

  1. If a heel-striker can hold the American Marathon record, then I think that's okay... Hehe...

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  2. Great post. Thanks for reminding me of this. I actually had an appointment with my podiatrist this morning who said that he has seen a crazy increase in stress fractures from minimalist sneakers. And not only from heel strikers. people with "ideal midfoot strike" are getting them too. Plus, he is a marathoner, which I feel makes his opinion even more valid (you know, foot doctor and marathoner!)

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  3. Ugly turnovers? You look strong as heck striking that heel to me. I'm glad you've embraced it! I mid-foot strike and I'm like a decade behind you in a race so whatever.

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  4. I know they say it puts more pressure on your body and messes up your gait or whatever, but as long as you can do it and doesn't get you ingured... what is the harm? Like you said, everyone is different.

    Of course, I can see though, if someone is injured or whatever, and is trying to improve their gait, why they would try for midfoot. Becuase we runners are always looking for something to try. Ha ha.

    And I do wish I could fix my funky strike though. I land so far on the outside of my left mid foot that I am wearing down the tread on that side of the shoe way before the rest of it. LOL.

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  5. I am heel striker! I was told once that I was efficient and that it would be good for not getting injured when I was in college (like 13 years ago). I have only been injured once and I am told I need to run more midfoot??? Whatever!?!? I like my heelfoot stirke!

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  6. It's not as black and white as that. Heel or midfoot really is not what matters (although that gets all the media attention). It is were you hit the ground in relation to your general center of mass. If you land out too far in front of your hips (heel or midfoot) you are running less economically than you otherwise could.

    This is because landing that far forward generally means you are also doing so with a straightened leg. This is causing a breaking action and resulting is less shock absorption from your body.

    All of your above images are from the front, so I cannot tell with certainty. But it does appear you are landing with a heel strike and with a straightened leg in front of your center of gravity. I don't think you'll find a exercise scientist or physiologist who will say that is a good idea, no matter their opinion on heel striking or midfoot striking.

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    1. This is good! I was going to mention something similar to this.

      You can see that Deena, while heel striking, it not reaching so far ahead of her body with her leg. She's landing on a bent knee, which is where the effcient/non-efficient way to run comes into play. She's not breaking her momentum landing on a straightened leg. And her thigh is taking the shock, not her knee.

      I do agree with the fact that every body is different and I don't think that everybody needs to run with a mid-foot strike or in any specific way. Case in point: when walking, people heel-strike. When I walk? I rarely heel-strike. Just how my body does it.

      I figure if somebody is comfortable with their running form and isn't getting injured, it's not broke, so don't fix it.

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    2. I was going to mention the same thing. I tend to heel strike only if I'm over-striding and landing well in front of my body. It was such an easy thing to correct; by just shortening my stride, and quickening my turnover, I became less of an over-strider. As a result of that, I became less of a heel striker (though still do half the time) but that wasn't what I was aiming to correct at all. As soon as I picked up my cadence, I could FEEL how much less stress I was putting on everything from the hips down. I was also able to pick up the pace so much easier, because I wasnt braking with my heels/knees. So Brit, who cares if you heel strike?? If you've found a great cadence/turnover and you are landing in a way that is most economical and the softest on your joints, then you have found the sweet spot for running the best for you - heel strike or no. - Penny

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    3. I agree with you, seems like the main problem (if there is a problem with heel striking) is that your body can't fully load itself for the next stride if your front leg is straight or almost fully straight. Just seems more efficient energy wise for the front leg to be never be fully straight so your body is always ready to take the next stride.

      If you don't get injured using your present stride (whatever it is), you are probably fine the way it is. No use changing.

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  7. In my mind I'm a midfooter, in reality I'm 80% heel striker. I honestly believe that heel striking isn't causing the majority of my problems- shin splints, ITB, hip flexor, the list goes on and on...I believe the root of those issues stem from muscle imbalance, poor flexibility and training too much too fast. Ive thought about changing my odd gait where my left leg kicks out, but decided I've been running that way probably forever without incident (to that leg at least) so why change now? Maybe I'd be more serious to try newtons or other mid foot type shoes if I was a new runner because it would all be new to me. I'm not convinced pulling a 180 in the way I run now, after 15-20 years of running would be the smartest thing to do... Instead I'll work on my strength, flexibility and core strength. And embrace my weird gait :)

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  8. I totally agree...and that's what the research says. Research pretty much says that the jury is out...changing your gait might be good, but might not help.

    Though, as someone who keeps being told (by a sports medicine doctor) that my tendonitis is due to over-pronation, I can't help but feel curious about what changing my gait might do for my recovery.

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    1. The interesting thing is there is no definition of over-pronation. I over-pronate, but have worn minimalist shoes for over 5,000 miles without an injury. It's normal.

      Also, interestingly enough. Pronation with a midfoot strike is completely different than with a heel strike (late stage pronation). Heck, pronation will change between shoes you wear!

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  9. Totally agree, I think its a lot of horse sh*t cooked up by shoe manufacturers to place WAY more importance on something that just isn't all that important. For me running is about feeling comfortable and free, if you're getting injured I'd look to other reasons than the way your foot hits the ground, maybe too much weight behind the foot hitting the ground for instance. It's a band wagon like any other, people are always so happy to jump on them without applying too much thought. Yours, a smug midfoot striker ;D

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    1. While do agree that some shoe manufacturers spill out BS whenever they can, trying to convince people they are broken and need fixing or support, shoes are important. There was a recent study where "over-pronators" were put into stability shoes, and they were the group most likely to get injured during the study!

      I work for SkoraRunning.com and we build shoes that are meant to let the foot move as naturally as possible with the shoes there to offer protection.

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    2. For sure shoes are important, I keep being told I don't need all the cushioning from my heavy shoe of choice but I like the way it feels and I like a lot between me and the ground. I don't think we were designed to run high milage bare foot, we had the smarts to invent shoes and I intend to stick with them (Darwin's theory probably saw all pervious barefoot runners wiped out whilst the more innovative shoe toting ones outran their enemies and thus avoided becoming diner ;)). I will check out your site! No offense to any barefoot types out there....... :)

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  10. you make me laugh. I think switching to a lower profile shoe probably helped me in general stop injuries, but I also started landing right under my body...you know what I got slower! I started worrying so much about heel striking that i think I've over shortened my stride

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  11. I was able to see Deena on the LA course twice this weekend as I was running (thanks to annoying out and backs). She was heel striking away and looking like a bad ass.

    If forefoot/midfoot striking is so great, then why do I end up with so many issues? My heels don't even touch the ground (you can see in the wear patterns on my shoes) and yet I am currently dealing with plantar fasciitis and I've dealt with many other issues surrounding my foot and ankle. I completely agree with your non-scientific opinion. I believe we all need to run in a way that is natural to our bodies. Forcing ourselves to do something that feels completely unnatural can not be good. RIght?

    Those are just my thoughts. And man, I love Deena! I got to sit front row and listen to her speak at a Q&A this weekend. She's so incredibly humble and kind.

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    1. You answered your own question. Your heels don't even touch the ground?!?

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    2. Your heels should still touch the ground!!! I'm largely a mid-footer, but my heels touch the ground, they just aren't the first things to touch.

      Get those heels to the ground!

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  12. When I ran w/ Joan Benoit last spring, I noticed she had one of the ugliest heel strikes I've ever seen. So yes, it can be efficient. I changed mine a couple of years ago, though, b/c for me, it meant more injuries. The biggest issue is over striding, which unfortunately, usually goes hand in hand w/ heel striking. Getting your legs under your center of gravity is just an easier way to land for your body, and it usually means more efficient running, too, b/c you aren't putting on the brakes w/ each and every stride.

    Heel striking does feel completely natural to many folks, but that's simply b/c they have been brought up running in the big, bulky heeled shoes. The bottom line is that if you aren't getting injured, why change it? There is no one right way for every runner. For me, it was less shoe and a midfoot landing under my center of gravity that worked. For you, it's clearly something else. And that's ok!

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  13. I agree. To each their own. We don't criticize when someone needs contacts right?

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  14. i've seen u make some little cracks about ur heel strike, but my gosh, i can't believe how many people go thru such pains to tell u how 'wrong' it is! seriously, i find it kinda comical that out of the bad@$$ race pix u post they pick out ur footstrike! lol. i agree with ur stance, biomechanics are a little tricky to even WANT to mess with; unless it's already causing u prob's u run the risk of just screwing urself up. obvious form issues, yes of course, but heel strike is prolly not worth the pains. plus, next time just ask ur commenter wat their PR is...and then ur answer can be, "well, get back to me when u can beat me." ;)

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  15. It is clear from reading the comments that the vast majority of runners are unfortunately still stuck on the belief that it's heel strike vs midfoot strike. When in fact, that is not the case at all in those educated in the subject.

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  16. I'm a heel striker too girl. Just keep doing you! :D

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  17. I like to think I am a midfoot striker but once I get tired it is all about the heel strike. I like your attitude about it, just embrace what you are and run!

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  18. Thank you so much for this post. This make me feel better about my heel striking. Luckily I haven't had any major injuries, I had once hip bursitis and right now I'm battling achilles tendonitis. I believe both has less to do with my heel striking and more with stretching and strength training. I did try some minimalist shoes but haven't found a comfy, feel-good shoe yet.

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    1. Pure self plugging here, but check out the SKORA minimalist shoes: http://alldayidreamaboutfood.com/2012/10/skora-shoe-review.html
      (I work for the brand)

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  19. I definitely think that no runner is created equally and everyone's foot mechanics are slightly different. I found that when I thought too hard about how I ran and my form in general, running not only became burdensome and annoying, but random aches and pains started popping up. I figured out that I had to run however it felt most comfortable for me and my legs. Bodies are resilient and learn to adjust. Great post!

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  20. I never thought of looking at my old race photos to see if I'm a heel striker. Thanks to this post I did...... and I totally am! Go figure. I have bigger running problems than where my foot hits the ground though. Thanks for the post!

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  21. A lot of elite runners heel strike. (Desi, Kara, etc.) That being said, I have suffered hip injuries from heel-striking, so a few years ago I made the concerted effort to change my gait. I wear 4 mm drop shoes or less, but I wear more traditional shoes to give my achilles a break from time to time. I didn't get any faster, maybe even slowed me down. However, I am able to run more mileage in lower drop shoes, so I am happy with my mid-foot strike.

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    1. The below link is a video showing two runners. The individual in the black actually has a much faster 10k PR (sub29) than the other runner (sub32) yet with much worse form. Just because a runner has a bigger engine or faster PR does not mean what they are doing is optimal.

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QQodz0zYKe4

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  22. Ah, I just caught up on your blog posts and I just love reading your stuff so much. Just made me happy!

    Tappan has been injured and NOT able to run for OVER two years because he injured his achilles tendon when he tried to switch to mid-foot strike while marathon training. I'm not in the mid-foot party.

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  23. Thanks for this! The faster I get, the more I am noticing in race photos that I am a big time heel striker. But I am improving as a runner, becoming more overall fit, and haven't had even a hint of an injury (knock on wood!!) all season. So maybe this is just okay, and not something I should be secretly stressing about.

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  24. The doctor I work for is HUGE on changing running form IF IT'S THE MAIN CULPRIT for causing a runner injury...otherwise he believes that any runner who has consistently ran 50+ miles a week for 3-years will have naturally shifted into a running form that's most efficient and natural for our body...I think you're there!
    *Also have you ever watched yourself run?! because snapshots of a runner don't accurately depict foot & body placement at the time of ground strike, I bet if you videotaped yourself and watched it, your heel strike would look much less severe!!
    Heelstriking doesn't define your running talents! You are a talented & inspiring runner, just like Paula!
    I hope you're having a great weekend!
    xoxo!

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    1. *I mean just like Deena...(well Paula too!)
      :)

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  25. Wow, people that run look like unhealthy, almost like AIDS victims.

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    1. That's a highly inappropriate and tacky thing to say.

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  26. I didn't know that you have to run in a special way but I am sure of one thing. People aren't the same some people can be more affected than other in a particular way to run. So I think that if you are doing well you can keep it up like that.

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