What is your running style? Experts and runners have varied views about the proper running form feet strike and how you should run. So, which is the proper running foot strike? Should you hit the ground heel-first or toe-first? Is there any benefit to either? If you are happy with the way you run, do you really need to change your running style?

Is there any Ideal Running Foot Strike?

Fans of different ways of running have their own arguments. What happens with these two forms of running? 

  • Toe strike running: this leads to a more flexed knee and may cause your upper body to be a little more forward. When you’re running fast, your heels may not even strike the ground when using the toe-first approach.
  • Heel strike running: you may be using longer strides while running, and your movement is from the legs rather than the hips. As much as 80–85% of people run heel-first.

If you suffer from any pain or injuries because of your running technique or find that you either cannot run as fast or as long as you want to, it may be time for a change. 

Long-distance runners often switch from landing toe-first to heel-first as they experience fatigue. In fact, many champion long-distance runners prefer the latter approach, and many are from countries that actually practice barefoot running. 

What Injuries Affect Heel-First and Toe-First Strikers?

While most runners can face injuries because of the way they run, it’s also important to consider other factors involved, such as the running surface, the footwear, and your overall health. 

Heel-first runners land on their heels repeatedly, and this impacts their knees. The shock of weight on the heels radiates toward the knees and also affects the patellar tendons, quadriceps, and hips. 

Forefoot or toe-first runners absorb the impact on the ankles, Achilles tendon, and shins. This method also impacts the toes and calf muscles.

Actually, whichever way you run, your body is going to feel the shock differently. It doesn’t necessarily mean that your injuries will disappear if you switch your running mode; however, the pain is less likely to worsen if you make some changes. 

What Does the Research Say?

You would think that scientific research based on actual studies would be definitive and give you clear guidelines for which running method is best. The latest study by La Trobe, which analyzed 53 studies, shows that there is really no evidence that one form of running is better than the other or that it reduces the risk of injury

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In fact, if you switch your heel-first stride to toe-first stride (or vice-versa), you will only change the points of impact, and you may suffer from different injuries. 

If you really want to change from heel-first to toe-first, then it’s important that you do it gradually. Try it out first for a short time – and you will have to do this very consciously – and then increase the time slowly. It’s also vital that you do warm-up exercises and train the muscles used to feel the impact and pain. 

Of course, if the way you hit the ground works for you already, and you can run comfortably, there is no need to change it.

Key takeaways:

  • The toe-first approach is favored by sportspeople and physiotherapists – it is the natural form of running and used by barefoot runners.
  • The heel-first technique is practiced by 80–85% of runners – people choosing this method might be more prone to knee, leg, and back injuries.
  • The effect of changing your running style is not definitive – research has not confirmed the pros and cons of one style of running over another yet.
  • Should you continue what you’re doing? – if you are comfortable with your running style, then continue, but if you cannot keep the pace or time you want, consider changing and see if it helps.
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Written by

Chris Zibutis

Chris Zibutis is the Head Running Coach and founder of Joggo – that one person on earth who loves interval runs.  He holds a degree from Copenhagen Business School and is an avid runner – having participated in numerous marathons and triathlons, Chris brings substantial fitness and running experience to the Joggo team.