Growing up I’d always been told to run on my toes (or mid-foot). One, it would be faster and two, heel striking was a guaranteed way to get injured. When I got to University, again, I learnt exactly that (this time with biomechanical back-up). Then, one day while doing hill-sprints with my personal trainer at the time (an ex Olympian), he kept telling me to run on my heels. I looked at him totally confused and said “but I always thought you were supposed to run on your toes”. He then went into a long spiel about why running on your heels created more power and forward momentum whilst running on your toes was like constantly putting the brakes on every time you made contact with the ground. It went against everything I’d learnt so far. I decided to do some reading and figure out which was better, heels or toes? Here’s my two-cents on the issue:
Honestly I don’t think there is a right or a wrong when it comes to running and foot-strike and many things need to be taken into consideration.
Firstly, it depends what determines “better”: being faster or, healthier on the body? For me, it means reducing injury risk and long-term adverse effects, in which case I believe a more forefoot/mid-foot strike is necessary. Landing on the heel results in huge amounts of force/ shock going through the bones and joints. Bones and joints aren’t designed to withstand large amounts of force on a continual basis – this is one way you get arthritis. Toe striking however, allows the muscles and tendons to absorb these forces. Overuse of muscles and tendons can result in injuries also but plenty of stretching, massage and other recovery techniques can minimize the severity of these injuries.
Secondly, what do you classify as “running”? Jogging, sprinting, middle distance, marathons? All of these require slightly different techniques.
And lastly, there is a lot more to running than just how the foot strikes the ground. You need to take into account stride length (where the foot lands), pronation or supination of the foot during the stance phase (does it roll in or out?) as well as toe off and I am sure there are plenty other factors that need to be taken into consideration.
There is probably no “one-size-fits-all” answer. You are an individual, with your own aims, strengths and weaknesses. If you do a lot of running it is probably worth your while to do plenty of research, ask your trainer, ask your physiotherapist and sports masseur and above all, listen to your body.