Of all cardio activities, running is by far the most popular. It’s very accessible, doesn’t require complicated equipment and it burns calories like few other sports. But just because it’s such a basic sport, it doesn’t mean there are no developments in technique. One of the hottest debates in the world of running right now is about the optimal foot strike technique.
There are three basic foot strike techniques; heel, ball and toe. With a heel first strike, your foot is in ‘toes up’ position and you hit the ground first on your heel. A ball first landing means your foot strike takes place towards the rear part of the ball of your feet, again in a ‘toes up’ position. With this technique, you land almost flat footed. A toe first strike then means you land on your toes with your toes pointed down. And while there is no scientifically best or worst method, there’s definitely something to say about the pros and cons of all three.
The heel first strike is used by most runners, and yet it arguably comes with the most downsides. First, by landing with your leg extended in front of you, you essentially slam on the brakes. This disrupts your momentum, which you’ll have to build up again with every step you take. Needless to say, this isn’t very efficient. Second, landing heel first puts a lot of stress on your ankles, knees, hips and lower back. With the right cushioning in your shoes, the impact on your body can be reduced, but it’s still a relatively injury-prone technique.
On the other end of the spectrum is the toe strike. With this technique, there is no braking effect because it requires a strong so-called ‘paw back’, which essentially keeps pushing you forward. But while this makes it a fast method, at the same time it makes it more appropriate for sprinting than for running longer distances.
In the middle is the ball strike or neutral strike. With this technique, your landing is right under your centre of gravity. This means no braking and no paw back and therefore little energy loss, making it a very efficient technique that at the same time takes away most of the impact effects on your joints.
Don’t be afraid to experiment to find the technique that optimizes your running results, but always transition slowly to avoid injury.