Most runners know that landing on the forefoot during running is more efficient and reduces the risk of injury, but few know why. In analysing the technique of elite runners, almost all of them land with a forefoot strike and appear light and agile. Next time you see a recreational runner pounding the pavements have a look at their form. Do they appear graceful and nimble, or slow, sticky and uncomfortable?
Shoes play an important part in foot striking during running. Modern running shoes have affected the body’s ability to run naturally, with a forefoot strike. When we run in bare feet, our bodies naturally avoid heel striking (in favour of a forefoot strike) because it hurts! Most modern shoes are designed to minimise impact, so they provide you with a big heel cushion and lots of padding.
But rather than protect you this actually reduces proprioception because the foot can no longer feel what is happening underneath it. This allows you to land on your heel, without realising it hurts. Ultimately, this leads to injuries such as shin splints, plantar fasciitis and knee pain to name a few. Therefore, a change in your running shoe may have inadvertently increased your risk of injury, as you began to adopt a heel strike over time.
To get out of this cycle of injury and pain, it’s important to go back to basics. The first step is to practice being barefoot for as much of the time as possible, and invest in a good quality barefoot shoe to protect your feet while doing so. This will give your feet plenty of time to get stronger.
Part of this process may also involve specific exercises to improve strength, mobility and elasticity in the feet and toes – this is an important pre-requisite to learning proper running technique. In any case, seek out guidance from a suitably qualified Trainer