What’s the difference between a heel strike, midfoot strike, and forefoot strike?
The heel makes contact first with the ground. The foot is pointed upwards (known as dorsiflexion) at initial impact.
The ball of your foot makes first contact with the ground. The ball is the area between your toes and the arch of your foot. The foot is very close to parallel with the ground at impact.
Landing on the ball and toes of the foot. The foot is pointed downwards (known as plantarflexion) at impact.
Is a midfoot strike better for running?
Yes, a midfoot strike allows your body to better absorb the impact forces while running. Heel striking results in a more abrupt ground impact as the calf and achilles are not able to absorb forces at ground contact. As a result, these impact forces pass through the joints in your ankles, legs, hips and lower back.
In the chart below, we see how much force is applied during ground contact when running.
Impact peak: the largest force applied during initial ground contact
Active peak: the largest force applied over the entire ground contact
Loading rate: how quickly force is applied.
Now let's compare a heel strike vs midfoot strike:
As you can see, heel striking has a dramatically higher loading rate, and there is no impact peaks with a midfoot strike. In short, the force transfer is more abrupt when heel striking. Think about dropping an egg on the floor vs dropping it on a pillow. The pillow allows the egg to slow down more gradually vs the ground which is abrupt.
A majority of the general running population are heel strikers but if you look at elite runners, the numbers are reversed. Elite runners typically have a midfoot or very slight heel strike.
Where should your foot strike when running?
Just as important as how you strike the ground, is where you strike the ground.
Your foot should strike just in front of your torso/hips. We can use a still from video above to demonstrate the proper position of the foot relative to the body at ground contact.
Your knee should always be above or in front of the ankle at impact. Another way to think of this is your shin should be vertical or leaning forward at impact.
If your foot lands too far in front of your body, this is known as overstriding. Overstriding is equivalent to applying the brakes with every step and dramatically increases the shock passed to your body at impact. It is strongly correlated with running injury.
When heel striking, it is easy to reach forward with each step when looking to increase speed or when fatigued, leading to overstriding. Developing a midfoot strike can help you avoid overstriding situations.
How do you develop a midfoot strike while running?
Drills: everyone's favorite!
A and B skips, high knee, and butt kicks are all great ways for you to improve control over your coordination. Drills can feel tedious and boring but they help you develop proper mechanics which means better running form.
Running is hard. It's harder with poor form.
There are more nerves on the bottom of your foot than anywhere outside of your hands and lips. Any footwear is going to limit the amount of feedback available to these nerves.
Running barefoot allows the nerves on your feet to provide unfiltered feedback to your central nervous system and adjust your mechanics subconsciously. Your footstrike with most likely change instinctively within the first few steps of your first barefoot run.
Running barefoot will also allow strengthen your feet, allowing them to flex and load in ways that shoes do not allow. That being said, it's extremely important that you build distance running barefoot over time to avoid injury.
Tools to become a better midfoot strike runner
Believe it or not, there aren't many. The running industry tends to focus on the symptoms of bad form by selling cushioned shoes or arch support instead of promoting proper running technique.
Pareto was founded because of a dissatisfaction with the industry's backwards logic. The PR1 insole is the only product designed to help you develop a controlled midfoot strike.
The PR1 provides real-time feedback so you correct for overstriding and heel striking during your runs and workouts.