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Running Myth Buster: to heel-strike or not to heel-strike?

A while ago a trend started where people decided it was a good idea to change their running style. The argument was that since we were born to walk and run in bare feet, we would not naturally land on our heels but more the middle or even the front of our feet, over the toes. The theory went that to land on the heels sent shocks up the legs that would use more energy and cause injury. This led to a whole new shoe market developing around this 'bare-foot' fad. But is there any evidence that doing this improves your running efficient/economy or even reduces injury risk?

Much research has gone into this. The conclusion is that changing to a non-rear-foot strike pattern to reduce injury risk or improve running economy is not supported by the evidence gathered.

Whilst the load through the knees is reduced, a forefoot strike increases load in the calf, ankle and foot, which may increase the risk of injury to these areas during the transition process.

So what should runners do?

Well, first, if it ain't broke, don't try to fix it. A change to your strike pattern is not recommended for the uninjured rear foot stoke runner. If there is a wish to improve running performance then the following ought to be considered:

  1. add a heavy strength training session 2-3 times a week

  2. to reduce the risk of a running related injury, consult with an expert who deals with runners.

Those who wish to consider a transition should bear the following in mind:

  1. the transition should be made gradually, increasing the training load through distance, time or intensity, but not all three at the same time

  2. Prior to all of this the muscles of the lower leg and foot should, be targeted with a strength-related exercise program to improve the loading capacity of these areas.

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