Injuries are so common in endurance sport and the heel strike is the devil.
Most people would have you believe that injury is normal. It’s not. Luckily, more and more people are seeing the benefits of a mid-foot or forefoot strike over a heel strike. When landing in the front half of the foot you allow the arch of the foot to do its thing. This is the body’s suspension. A heel strike, however, doesn’t allow the foot to spring. This sends the impact through your ankles, knees and hips, leading to injury.
If you’re having trouble transitioning from a heel strike to a mid or forefoot strike, try these three drills:
1. Run short distances barefoot.
When we take away the cushioning of modern running shoes we have nowhere left to hide. Try running 20m on pavement with no shoes. Yep, that hurts. You might find yourself shortening your stride to ensure you land towards the front of the foot. Although counter-intuitive, there’s no problem in doing that. Running without shoes will also make your foot strike a lot quieter. This is a great thing as you’re putting your foot down carefully, with less force.
2. Increase your cadence.
When you’re forced to turn your feet over faster one simply doesn’t have time to heel strike. That sounds bizarre but to heel strike the athlete has to overstretch. The time taken to stretch further than necessary is valuable time when trying to maintain a fast cadence. Try it for yourself- download a metronome app, set the beeps to 200bpm then run to the rhythm. Trying to become as efficient as possible, your body will start shortening the stride. That’s what we want- to be more efficient!
3. Pull your foot directly up when it hits the ground.
Less time spent on the ground makes for a faster athlete. So if you were to pull your foot up as soon as it hits the ground that will make it easier to hold a high cadence (as above). But if you pull the foot up towards your hips it stops you from kicking out the back. There is nothing inherently wrong with kicking out the back. But the momentum gained when you swing the leg through to the next step will create a big pendulum that lands out in front of you. This will almost surely result in the heel hitting the ground first. Pulling your foot up rather than back will make it easier to put the foot straight back down again below your hips, thereby landing on the mid-foot.
Keep in mind when transitioning to a mid-foot strike that your calves will take the brunt of it. As your foot, Achilles and calves are now doing the work formerly left to the shoe, you will feel tightness throughout that chain. Roll it, stretch it, look after it. Transitioning to a mid-foot or forefoot strike is essential for your running longevity.