Most would state that changing ones foot strike can dramatically change ones athletic ability is a far fetched proposition. which in hindsight it may be, but answer me this… When you are watching the Olympics, do you see any athletes landing heel first? I would give you all my worth if you do, and there is a pretty big reason why.
To understand why forefoot striking is so important you must first understand why heel striking – landing heel first for each step – can be so harmful. When you land on your heel, all of the immediate impact force goes straight up through your shins to your knees; picture it like banging a wooden pole against the floor – you hit the ground with it, and feel the impact wherever your hands are, because the wooden pole gives no flex so cannot dissipate any force. This can be one of the main reasons why a lot of ‘new’ runners suffer with impact pains and niggles, especially in the knees and shins. That’s the reason heel striking can injure you, now why does heel striking make you slower? Well, to strike the ground with your heel and still be stable, your foot needs to hit the ground slightly in front of you. When you are running forward, yet your stride is pushing you backwards (because of the foot striking in front of you) you have to exert for energy to create a larger forward force to combat the backward force; consequently, you are spending MORE energy each step, making it so you have to work harder to run the same pace.
After all that, you may be wondering why people still heel strike. As the case with many running debates, it depends on the individual; many do it because that felt more comfortable for them when they started running, whereas other may not have enough strength – in their calves, ankles and feet – to allow a forefoot strike, which is usually the case in many overweight individuals who take up running.
Now when your forefoot strikes the ground first, your foot spreads (allowing some of the initial impact force to be dissipated) then the back of your foot comes close to the ground, before you bend your knees and push off your forefoot to propel yourself forward. Beautiful right? Can you see the difference between this and landing on your heel? When you land on your heel, you push yourself backwards before pushing forwards; when you land on your forefoot, you foot strikes the ground directly beneath your hips, allowing you to push off and move forward without having to overcome some initial resistance. In the meantime, running with a forefoot strike will strengthen the tendons around your lower leg and make you a more efficient runner.
It can be uncomfortable to do at first, I advise that you spend a couple weeks doing strengthening exercises before attempting to do so, but if you do not already forefoot strike, I plead for you to switch. The more efficient running style will help you run further and faster using less energy, and the lowered impact force will help avoid impact injuries. Be like the Kenyans – strike the ground with your forefoot to become a better runner.