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Foot Strike Patterns

Foot strike is a hot topic among runners, with a common debate being which type of strike is best, in terms of efficiency and injury rates.  Additionally, a runner should know his or her foot strike pattern in order to determine the best running shoe.  The many types of foot strike patterns are described here.

Heel striker
Perhaps the most common foot strike pattern among recreational runners is the heel strike.  This situation occurs when the heel of the foot hits the ground before the midfoot or forefoot.  A heel strike is inefficient because it increases the amount of time your foot is on the ground and may also lead to lower leg injuries.  The best way to improve your running economy if you are a heel striker is to engage in speed work like hill repeats.

Midfoot Striker
A midfoot striker will land on the ball of his or her foot and may appear to be flat footed.  This athlete is more efficient than the heel striker, but may place an unnecessary amount of stress on the arch of the foot, particularly the posterior tibialis region.  A midfoot striker should focus on strengthening the plantar fascia and posterior tibialis areas.

Toe Striker
A natural toe striker is rare and is most common among sprinters and middle distance runners.  This athlete will naturally land on his or her toes.  This running style is most efficient because it minimizes the amount of time the foot is on the ground and maximizes force for push-off, but may lead to increased calf injuries.  A toe striker should perform calf and Achilles tendon strengthening exercises.

Neutral
In addition to foot strike, the way that weight is distributed across the foot is important.  A neutral weight distribution means that the runner evenly distributes weight horizontally across the foot when he or she lands.  This athlete is theoretically least prone to injury.  Additionally, a neutral runner will have the most options when it comes to running shoes.

Pronation
An individual who pronates will land with weight distributed towards the inside of the foot.  Whether a heel-, toe-, or midfoot striker, pronation can occur.  This runner is at a greater risk of developing shin splints and posterior tibialis tendonitis.  A motion control shoe specifically designed for pronation can minimize injury risk.

Supination
On the other hand, a runner who supinates distributes his or her weight towards the outside of the foot.  This runner will be at greater risk for peroneal pain along the shin bone, as well as ankle injuries, such as sprains.  A motion control shoe can also help with supination. 

How do I determine my foot strike?
The best way to determine your foot strike and weight distribution patterns is to have an employee at your local running store analyze your gait.  Alternatively, you can look at the wear patterns on your shoes.  Which area has the most wear:  the toe, heel, or mid-foot region?  Additionally, is there extreme wear towards the inside or outside of the foot?  Knowing these patterns can help you find the best running shoe for your needs.