From heel strike to mid-foot strike and back again?

heel strikeLike many runners, I jumped on the natural running bandwagon a few years back. And I am still a believer in less shoe, aiming to land under your center of gravity, and landing quietly with a high cadence. But I think when I changed my form I put the focus on changing from heel striking to mid foot striking, and then got lazy and didn’t do much else. Which wasn’t the right way to go about it. Yesterday’s PT appointment with my miracle worker Robert kind of served as a reality check on that theory.

After all the structural hard work I have put into my running the past few months, Robert had me get onto a treadmill so that he could see where I stood from a functional standpoint. Now, I’ve had PTs perform a gait analysis on me more than once. I’ve always heard about dropped hips, less than stellar glute firing, etc., etc. when I’ve been analyzed. Robert took a bit of a different approach and turned the analysis into a functional fix.

The first thing he did was listen to me run. This told him if I hit the ground hard or light (somewhere in between). It also told him whether or not I hit harder on one side than the other (I did and it was of course my oft-injured right side). Then he took a look at me running and began having me play around with different cues. One cue seemed to make me land lighter, under my center of gravity, and with far fewer imbalances. You can guess where this is headed, right? He had me heel strike.

Oh the irony! While it felt unnatural to me to do it, I have to admit, I was a MUCH quieter runner when I did it. My cadence picked up, and from what Robert observed, I wasted far less energy with up and down bobbing, and evened out my arm carriage to boot.

So hey, if that’s what it takes, that what it takes. My focus on the next few weeks is to maintain the short runs I’ve been doing four times per week while using that heel striking cue. I have no pride hung up on mid-foot striking, believe me. Just don’t ask me to wear Hokas!

What’s the best fix a PT ever gave you? Heel striker or mid-foot striker? 


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  1. says

    It’s not always about heel strike mid-foot strike, but about where you land! If you are landing out front you are putting on the breaks, so you are really looking to land under your body then the running improves. So I look at it this way: running barefoot teaches you to run softy use it as a tool (other than that run in what shoe is best for you.) And then watch were your foot strikes the ground not how!

    Where were you striking the ground?

    • MissZippy says

      Yes, I was a bit too much in front, although the bigger issue was that I was more stable and quiet when heel striking.

      • says

        Then with that in mind you have to keep a careful eye on your shoes as when they wear you will start to run into problems again. (that is the first thing my old PT looks at!). Remember we aren’t as young as we use to be…

        Good Luck
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  2. says

    I’ve been a heel striker forever. I thought it was the root of all my problems but after a gait analysis, we found that I over extend my stride which was way worse than where my foot landed. My PT suggested to work on shortening my stride and not worry so much about my foot strike. I’ve been trying to go with that more lately and it seems to be working. *knock on wood*!!!!
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  3. says

    There was recently a study published that heel strikers are more efficient than mid-foot strikers. Of course, it didn’t go into the amount of heel strike.
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  4. says

    This is so fascinating. I’ve been working on cadence, form and footstrike as well (maybe the cause of my ITB…working on it two weeks after a hard marathon effort is probably not smart). But I noticed that my footstrike is louder than normal. I’m wondering does that mean I’m less efficient? And is there a threshold that I’ll cross and become more efficient at the new stride vs. the old? From what I’ve heard heel strike isn’t that big of a problem…it’s the over-striding that is.
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    • MissZippy says

      Yes, it’s the over striding that is the bigger problem. I think the loud landing generally means you can improve (cadence too here) and have less impact traveling up your body.

  5. says

    Oh lawd girl!!! It just figures, doesn’t it? I’m a hell striker and a coach told me long ago that, if I wasn’t getting injured to NOT change a thing, that the body runs a certain way naturally and if it ‘aint broke…
    At least you have a good fix and a great PT – that’s a winning combo :-)
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  6. says

    I’ve come to the conclusion over the past several years that we all are unique in our running forms and we should let our bodies “just run” and do what they naturally tend to do. I think it makes one more successful because we aren’t trying to change our own physical structure … work with what we were born with, etc. Of course, we all know that improving some areas like not letting your head slump forward and keeping your arms reasonably under control are just common sense things, but our legs and feet need to be “free” to do what they tend to want to do naturally … imo :) :) :)
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  7. says

    We get into heated discussions about this at work periodically. I truly believe that every person needs a different method to run. What works for you won’t work for me. Whether that is heel striking, midfoot striking, whatever. I don’t really think there is a right or wrong way to run as long as you are injury free.
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  8. says

    You have to run the way that is most efficient for your body and it sounds like your Pt is on top of how you run most efficiently.

    The thing I think that most of us and the people who analyze our gaits forget about it is not really about how our gait is when we are fresh and have plenty of energy.

    They need to look at us at the end of a tough run at varying paces (from our typical easy pace to race pace), when we are tired and we revert to our natural stride, that we use much more than we want to believe we do? However, most analyst do not include these factors into their analysis or even see runners running when they are truly fatigued.

    Personally I believe it is an important point that is overlooked, because of the inconvenience and time needed to see that part of our gait. However, if more runners had their fatigued gait analyzed, I have a feeling that more than a few people would be very surprised about what their gait looks like.

    Oh well, time to get off my soapbox, we all have a unique stride that varies dependent upon the speed we are doing and that is most efficient for us. I am finding your journey back fascinating and insightful, which makes me think about my own issues with my stride/efficiency. :-)
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  9. Lisa Fichman says

    HOKAS – do it! Seriously, and in my humble opinion, I want a light shoe with a minimal heel drop and LOTS of cushion. That’s my dream shoe. Is there such a thing!?

  10. says

    Heel striker here! I was really sad when I developed that heel spur a few years ago; however after the toe problems this spring I’m ok with the whole heel striking thing. My personal feeling about all this is that people should run however feels natural to them. I’m running without those orthotics that I never needed and my feet are thanking me for it!

    This whole journey really has made think a lot about the mechanics of running and the emphasis we place on shoes to make a difference in our running. My trainer, who is a correctional exercise specialist, never even considered my shoes in all this. She instead focused on balancing my hips, and strengthening my glutes. There were some muscle chains that weren’t firing. I am a much stronger runner at age 51 than I have ever been. It’s been really interesting!
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  11. says

    That’s kind of fascinating. I naturally heel strike, even when barefoot running, although it is not pronounced. I do believe that for the most part, our bodies are smart and compensate where need be to develop an efficient stride (there was an interesting article on this in Running Times last year – they highlighted Rita Jeptoo’s “awkward” stride). The problem is when your body start OVERcompensating for weakness or imbalance, and you stress, strain, or injure yourself. Knowing when you hit that point is most important and most difficult to tell!
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    • MissZippy says

      Exactly. My PT could see me “protecting” my right hip area in my stride. He said we dig nice comfortable little holes of compensation and they are tough to get out of once we don’t need them.

      • says

        Absolutely. I did a gait analysis by Newton last year, and, although the guy doing the analysis seemed to think I looked fine, I didn’t! All I could see in the video was how much time I spent using my right side, and how minimally activated my left side was. I even noticed that my left foot sort of flopped around in the air – clearly not being held straight by activated muscle in the hip and glutes. Now I know I was heading for serious injury.
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  12. says

    I was always a heel striker too until I jumped on the minimal bandwagon, but it made me slower and it felt harder, even 6 months into it. I’ve now gone back to more supportive shoes (was injured as well) and retaught myself how to heel strike. I now do a mix – flat and downhill I heel strike and uphill I lean forward and mid foot strike. It seems to work!
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  13. says

    I’m a heal striker and never had any intention to change. I am able to run light on my feet that way as well. I tried the mid foot/chi form once and knew it wasn’t for me. Depending on the surface, that can change, but mostly I heal strike. I’m glad to see you trying new things to see what will be best for you moving forward.
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  14. says

    So strange Amanda! Over the past few weeks I’ve been reconsidering. Is it possible that natural running isn’t for everyone? Form? Minimal shoes? I’m not sure where all of this thinking will lead me but I have an appt today and tomorrow that might help.

    I thought it was crazy to even think natural running might not be natural for me now.
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  15. says

    Love Laura’s comment that we need to trust our bodies! Everyone is built differently, so what’s best for one runner might not be best for another. I watch my daughters run, and they look so effortless and natural. They have no preconceived notions of how they should run or what is the right form/posture. They just run. Maybe we all need to channel our inner child and just run! Glad to hear the PT is paying off for you!
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    • MissZippy says

      I think perhaps we are naturals as children but then as we age and run in big built-up shoes, sit too much, etc, we develop some not-so-natural stride habits. Then get an injury and you begin compensating w/o even realizing, which is again, not so natural. It can all snowball into an ugly mess!

  16. says

    Right now I’m on the balls of my feet mostly, but trying to run lightly and with a higher cadence, pretty tough but it has solved some lower leg issues for me. Though I haven’t run in Hokas yet, I am dying to and probably will try them out during this marathon training at some point.
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  17. says

    Heel striker! I really tried to go midfoot, but I decided I just want to go with what feels natural and comfortable in the end. I like slightly minimal shoes but they have to have cushion, which is why I love the Altra Torins. although I do admit I was never so injured as to when I started switching to lower heel drop and less cushion.
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  18. says

    Interesting. I’m a mid-foot striker thanks to exposure to Chi Running when I first started running. But – I also know that my form goes to hell when I get really tired (like the last 5K of a half marathon). I really want someone to analyze my gait then – might show some very different results.
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  19. says

    So funny that you are talking about foot strike!! My oldest son has been running almost every day (3-5 miles) since March and he keeps having toe problems (blisters, black toenails….). I think it is because he runs way up on his toes – I told him I was going to record him running so he could see what I’m talking about and maybe change to more of a heel-toe running style.
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  20. says

    I’m a chi fan. I had AT problems and then calf strain problems (forefoot landing).
    With a midfoot strike (foot almost dead flat) a relaxed lower leg, and good cadence (6′ 1″ height > 85 steps per min) I have been injury free at much higher stress loads for a couple of years now.(age 58)

    But everybody is different.

    The more ideas to try when things aren’t working..the better!

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  21. says

    I used to be a heel striker, but the problem was that I was landing way out in front of my body. When I switched to a lighter shoe my cadence increased, I started landing more midoot, and I was landing under my body. When I had an evaluation done before i switched to a lighter shoe they had me run barefoot and then with shoes. When I ran barefoot I landed mid foot, with shoes I landed on my heel. At the time my PT was hesitant to have me go with less shoe because of a history of achilles problems, but once I gradually made the changes I rarely have any issues with my achilles, other than occasional tightness (which happened with heavier shoes anyway).
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  22. says

    Really interesting Amanda – like you, I’ve spent a lot of time changing my stride – but along the way I really questioned how much it mattered how your foot struck the ground. The key for me, and probably the biggest improvement has been yes … landing my foot more underneath me, in lieu of out in front of me … but more than anything else, lifting my leg through the stride zone instead of lazily swinging it through. Lifting has created stronger hip flexors and faster times. Plus, it really helps me “place” my foot down, instead of swinging it through and letting it fall where ever, usually too far out in front of me. Good article!
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  23. says

    haha. I’m sorry but just have to laugh at the irony! But so so glad that you seem to have a really great PT working with you and really helping to pinpoint some of the issues. When I did my gait analysis recently, I saw that I was definitely over-striding which was the bigger issue than my tendency to heel strike. I’ve been trying to pay attention to it more and it’s hard!
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    • MissZippy says

      Adrienne–I was similar, actually. One foot perfectly mid foot the other slightly heel striking. Yes, compensation at play!

  24. says

    I am a heel striker and believe mid-foot striking is better IN THEORY. But I also believe every body is different and as long as we don’t have major issues, we should not mess with our form. I have a feeling oftentimes show companies try to convince us otherwise, so they can make money.
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  25. Mary says

    I am PT and a runner. I was a heavy heel striker. Last fall my running stopped after I got diagnosed with a tibia stress fracture. I took 2 months off and when I returned I focused on forefoot striking. It was slow at first and took a long time to achieve. I would do intervals of 1-2 minutes of forefoot striking and then walk. My ankles and calves were sore for several weeks. I focused on a lot of stretching. Now – I am up to 10 miles of forefoot running in my Brooks cadence shoes. The best part is no tibia pain like before. Transitioning from heel to forefoot took 3-4 months but was really worth it to me to be be running without pain and without fears of stress fractures!

    • MissZippy says

      Totally get where you are coming from. It still feels wrong to me to try to heel strike. BUT–I can hear how much quieter I am and with Robert’s trained eye, know that I am landing more under my center of gravity, so this is where I’m going for now!

  26. bob says

    Very interesting. Still don’t think a heel strike is ideal. I think my casual attitude that had developed about foot strike may have contributed to an ankle issue I just had. About a month ago, I ran a 5K during a period in which I was running a lot. I was planning on a marathon at the end of June. Started getting a slight ankle problem that caused me to actually drop out of the 5K. The ankle swelled horribly and I could barely walk for a week. Missed the marathon. Been resting since then, but ran a 5K on a whim July 4th. Felt good and finished in 20:55. Lol. Ankle still good, and I’ll be resuming a more normal running routine tomorrow. Didn’t consult a doctor or any PT. Went back to my ideas about posture, cadence and foot strike. It seemed to me that I ran pretty light during the 5K, and felt like I had a good fore/mid foot strike. No additional wear on the heels of my racing flats afterwards. Anyway, the experiment continues…