Anyone who’s serious about running has had at least a passing concern about getting hurt. That’s because this incredible sport is high impact, to say the least. In fact, so many runners get hurt that people research every possible angle of running, trying to find new ways to stay safe. And one of the most investigated pieces of running is the way your foot hits the ground when you run (also know as your striking pattern.)
For years, people believed that heel-strike running (when your heel hits the ground before the ball of your foot, thus absorbing most of the impact) contributed to many injuries. As a result, many runners changed their strike pattern to run toe-to-heel—essentially running on the balls of their feet. Many running coaches and other health experts agreed that this was the way to go if you wanted to avoid injuries like shin splints, or foot and knee pain. Unfortunately, the latest research is now disproving their advice.
New Research Disproves the Significance of Strike Patterns
Now, researchers from La Trobe University in Australia suggest changing your strike pattern will help not help you prevent running injuries. And it won’t make you run any faster, either.
Publishing his findings in the journal Sports Medicine, lead researcher and physiotherapist Dr Christian Barton explained: "We analyzed 53 studies which looked at the impact of forefoot, rearfoot and flatfoot running patterns on injury, running economy and running biomechanics. Our comprehensive review suggests that telling someone to run on the ball of their foot instead of their heel may make them less efficient, at least in the short term. Additionally, there is no evidence either way on whether running on the balls of your feet reduces injury."
Even as he tried to disprove this theory, Dr. Barton admitted that changing the way you run can be helpful in one way: it shifts the impact from one part of your body to another, meaning your risk of over-use injuries may be slightly reduced, if you always switch up your strike pattern.
For example, said Dr. Barton, "Running toe-heel might help injuries at the knee, where loads are reduced. However, it may cause injuries to the feet and ankle, where loads are increased. In other words, unless you are constantly switching up your strike pattern, switching your gait permanently may reduce your injury risk in one area. But, in so doing, you’d only be more likely to get hurt somewhere else.
So, if changing your strike pattern can’t prevent your running injuries, how can you stay safe while you train? Just keep reading for our guide to preventing running injuries.
This is the Best Way to Prevent Running Injuries
If you really want to avoid a running injury, you have to train wisely. Don’t run every day—that puts too much stress on your body. And don’t make running your only form of exercise. If you build up strength in your glutes and your core on non-running days, these muscles will help support your runs, taking pressure off your knees and feet as you log those training miles.
And while we’re on the subject of miles, let’s discuss increasing your weekly mileage. If you want to build towards a higher-distance goal, don’t move up too quickly. Instead, gradually add one or two miles at a time, sticking with that new distance until it feels really comfortable. Then, and only then, is it time to add even more distance to your runs. The same goes for adding speed to your runs. Gradually work your way towards quicker sprints; never go directly from a 10-minute mile towards an attempt at logging an 8-minute pace.
We also have to talk about shoes for a minute. They matter a lot, but not in the way you might imagine. While everyone seems to have an opinion about how much padding you put into your sneakers, the ideal drop (how much lower your toe is than your sneaker’s heel) and everything else under the sun, that isn’t the true key to preventing injuries. As it turns out, picking sneakers that feel good on your feet (the very first time you wear them) is a key factor in preventing running injuries. Once you’ve got that covered, replace your shoes every 300 miles or so (or sooner, if they start feeling uncomfortable.) Plus, if you ever experience persistent pain when you’re training, give yourself a break and stop training for a day or two. If the pain goes away, get back out there. But if it sticks around, go get checked by your running podiatrist. If you follow these directions, you should be able to avoid serious running injuries. Without having to prance around on the balls of your feet!