Forefoot, midfoot or heel: How do you walk correctly? 

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Many beginners feel insecure when it comes to their running style and the right footrest. You’re asking yourself: do I have to land on my forefoot to be a good runner? Everything you need to know about the forefoot, midfoot, and heel attachment.

Everyone runs differently. Most runners land on their heels, roll over their entire foot and push off their forefoot and toes. In this landing and roll-off process, one speaks of heel runners.

The metatarsal impactors, on the other hand, have the first contact with the ground with the metatarsus. When landing, the foot does not point up with the toe like with the heel runner but moves with the outsole parallel to the ground. The foot is usually angled slightly at right angles to the running direction, i.e. it hits the ground with the outer side of the sole first.

A small percentage of runners are forefoot runners. It’s usually the faster athletes because when you run very fast when you sprint, you automatically become a forefoot runner: sprinters only touch down with the balls of their feet and then push off again immediately.

Mid-foot or even the heel does not touch the ground between landing and push-off, or only very briefly. That’s why the Sprinter shoes only have spikes in the ball and toe area, i.e. in the front part of the outsole. Even when walking barefoot or in barefoot running shoes, you usually become a forefoot runner.

There is no right running style

But beginners in particular are often confronted with the argument that landing on the forefoot is better and beneficial for the joints because the impact energy is better absorbed by the leg muscles than is the case with heel landing.

There are some pros and cons, but advising runners to switch to the forefoot running style has been proven wrong.

  • Firstly, there is no objectively correct running style.
  • Second, there are no norms when it comes to running style; everyone runs differently.
  • Third, there is no scientific evidence that forefoot runners have a lower incidence of injury than heel runners. 

Forefoot runners even have a higher risk of injury in the heel and calf muscles.

Two-thirds to 80 percent are heel walkers

Forefoot runners are usually ambitious and fast runners. As already mentioned, most runners land with their heels first. Studies speak of between two-thirds and more than 80% of runners. 

Accordingly, most running shoes are designed for this large target group. The running style is individually different and depends heavily on the physical disposition, such as factors such as height, weight, leg length, foot position, and in short: the body statics.

But posture, running speed, running surface, or route profile also play a role. Last but not least, the training condition and flexibility of the musculoskeletal system as well as age are important variables:

The running style often changes with the training condition – or even during a run when the body is warmed up and more elastic. Strengthening and stretching exercises are highly recommended for all runners and should be a regular part of the training program, especially for beginners. 

Strengthening the muscles throughout the body is essential for a good running posture and a problem-free rolling process of the foot.

The impact absorption when running

Evolutionarily, man is a cloister. Every running step is a jump and the entire body twists in a spiral. You jump off with one leg and land on the other leg or the other foot. 

With every step you take, far more than your own body weight lands on one foot, and the jumping movement increases the impact force to one and a half to three times the body weight. These forces are most effective when walking downhill.

In any case, whether heel or forefoot landing, the running shoe makes a smaller contribution to this impact absorption compared to the leg muscles. The cushioning behavior of a running shoe is still of great importance when running regularly on asphalt. 

But the best way to protect the joints is to have well-developed leg muscles, especially in the thighs, hips, and buttocks. If you don’t neglect stretching, you have the best possible conditions to prevent overuse problems from occurring in the first place. This applies to beginners as well as professionals.

Be careful with the forefoot

Forefoot running puts a lot of strain on the calf and Achilles tendon because, with every landing and the subsequent push-off movement, considerable tensile forces act on the calf and the insertion of the Achilles tendon on the heel bone. 

This can irritate, inflammatory, and, in the worst case, chronic symptoms. Regular stretching is therefore one of the basic duties of the forefoot runner.

Variable training instead of changing your running style

Running should, above all, avoid uniformity. Different speeds are just as much a part of a healthy change as running on different terrain and with different route profiles. 

Running barefoot on a well-groomed lawn is an ideal supplement to training, especially in the warmer months of the year, when most runners practice the forefoot run unconsciously. The entire foot and lower leg muscles are trained naturally. 

In addition, exercises such as skipping, heels, or knee -lever runs can be carried out on the grass (not on the sand!).

Avoiding mistakes when heel walking

These exercises also help to make your running style more efficient, no matter how you land or roll your foot. Whether you are a beginner or a well-trained runner, the opportunities for improving your running technique are usually the same. 

Many runners take too long steps and have a low step frequency. Well-cushioned running shoes often provoke too long steps, the knee is too stretched and the footrest is far in front of the body’s center of gravity. 

Accordingly, the heel touches down far forward. This puts a lot of strain on your knees. The aim should be to bring the footrest close to the body’s center of gravity – and conscious forefoot running can be used as a form of training. The steps become shorter and the step frequency higher.

Conclusion: train variably to run healthily

Those who touch down heel first when running should continue to do so. Instead of changing your running style, you should pay attention to balanced, variable training that protects you from damage caused by overuse. 

Running ABC exercises, in particular, can help. Changing your running shoes regularly also protects you from injuries. And if you run regularly, you should use different running shoes.

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