Running Technique, Midfoot Strike and Foot Landing Options

Posted by David Stretanski on Mon Sep 13th, 2010, 9 comments

Recently there has been much discussion and debate about running with respect to foot strike. The advice ranges but it is in general focused to how to land the foot. Much of the advice is also purist in nature – meaning a position that there is only one ‘right’ way to land properly for all people and all running situations. There is probably more to it than that; for example the position of the leg/foot when it touches the ground and the direction the foot is moving when it touches the ground may also be important factors.

But Foot “Landing” is still only one component of foot strike. A second important component is Foot “Loading” or more generally how you load the body’s weight during each step’s point of support. This is likely where most of the repetitive impact or stress can occur which results in inefficiency and injury.

So let’s review the “Landing” options first, again making it clear these are choices we all get to make:

Landing Location

Heel Strike: There are numerous running studies tainting the dreaded full heel strike with or without a locked knee. This Landing Location is highly related to Landing Position (see below); it is likely a heel strike is combined with the foot landing in front of the body.

Front of the Heel: This is when while running you land in between the heel and landing completely flat or Fullfoot (midfoot). This is how many people land when they run and many more when they walk. The ChiWalking technique suggests a very slight front of heel to toe roll for a subtle forward momentum.

Fullfoot (Midfoot): This landing allows your lower leg, ankle and foot to be as relaxed as possible. The entire foot touches down at the same relative time which distributes the load and permits the structure of the lower leg to do most of the work. This is a key component of the ChiRunning tehcnique as it reduces muscular effort in the lower legs and limits any resistance to your forward fall.

Forefoot: This is when while running  you land up on the balls of your feet. This engages the lower leg, ankle and foot; and potentially asks a small part of the body to do a very big (repetitive) job under tension. Note: There is advice that suggests the foot’s elastic recoil provides a higher level of efficiency; but these statements rarely consider overall efficiency, risk to injury or objective (sprinting vs. endurance running).

Toes: This landing is right up on the front of the foot, between the metatarsals and the tips of the toes. This also engages the lower leg, ankle and foot; and puts a lot of pressure on a very small surface area under tension.

Landing Position

In Front of the Body: According to physics, landing in front of the body results in a brake or resistance to your forward running motion as you oppose a very big force of nature – the Force of the Approaching Ground. How much resistance is likely related to the level of tension in the foot, ankle and lower leg; and also the Landing Direction (see below). Combining this landing position with a locked knee can add pressure on the knee joint.

Under the Body: Landing under the body allows cooperation with that big force of nature. This reduces resistance to your forward momentum; and allows the Landing Direction and other factors to enhance this cooperation. This is a key ChiRunning technique and ChiWalking technique concept; “never step passed your hip”. In general your knee will not be locked if your foot lands under the body.

Landing Direction

Moving Forward: If your foot lands when it is moving forward, it further opposes that very big force of nature. This can lead to more impact via a horizontal force in the feet, legs, knees, etc.

Moving Rearward: If your foot lands when it is moving rearward, the motion further enhances cooperation with that very big force of nature. This is a key Chi Running concept to move with an external force.

So these are a few concepts to consider when you decide how to land your foot. Note that some are related and in cases one concept might reduce the effect of another concept. For example, you might be able land on the ball of your foot in front of your body – and reduce the potential impact (braking) by running relaxed or having your foot move rearward as it lands.

~~~

And now let’s review the “Loading” options. These are similar to landing with two distinctions below. Loading is likely where much of the potential stress exists since this is when the body is managing the other very big force of nature – Gravity.

“Loading”

Via Structure and Soft Joints: If you load your aligned structure you use the strongest material in your body, your skeleton, which can be very efficient. This postural alignment also allows higher levels of relaxation which can result in less resistance to your motion. A soft joint can result in less stress; a locked or stiff joint can be easily stressed. Alignment (Posture), Relaxation and loose joints are all key components of Chi Running and Chi Walking.

Via Muscle: If you load your body using muscle, this is generally less efficient. The isometric contraction (or tension) will also likely create some resistance to your motion. Examples are any deviation from aligned posture but also things like knee ‘sag’ – overly loading your quads or supporting your body weight with muscles in lower legs, ankles and feet.

The effects of Loading can be greatly affected by other factors such as Cadence and Focus. A higher cadence means you are in the air more; a lower cadence means you are on the ground supporting your body weight more. Looking/thinking down can make you heavy; looking out and thinking up can make light. So again there are additional factors that make a ‘purist’ position shortsighted in my opinion. And we have not even discussed how your running goal (ie. speed) at a given moment can affect your choice of landing and loading.

Now let’s look at this visually. Here is a graph of my choices for landing and loading. My running “objective” focuses on endurance mainly at the Marathon and Ultra level. I focus on form first, then distance, and then speed indirectly – as a result of technique.

As you can see, I have decided to land and load almost exclusively fullfoot (midfoot). If I am going to load fullfoot, I also want to land fullfoot to support the highest possible level of relaxation.

There is a case where I might land on the front of my heel. This is when I am going down a very steep hill. The Chi Running technique in this case is to use a subtle front of heel to toe roll under the body at a very high cadence to reduce any impact. There are also cases where I might land on my forefoot. This is when I am on a technical trail and need to dance along a few roots or rocks. The forefoot landing under the body is short in duration and as soon as possible I go back to fullfoot (midfoot) and a focus on relaxing the lower leg, ankle and foot. Another case for forefoot landing is outright speed, perhaps at the end of an event – or if I ever find myself be chased by a saber-toothed tiger (a true “fight or flight” scenario).

But these are ONLY my choices. The point here is … decide. The suggestion is – be informed and be conscious of how you are using your ‘vehicle’. Apply your scenario, your objectives and weight the risks.

“It is not running that is hard on your body, it is perhaps the way you run that can be very hard on your body”. – Danny Dreyer, Author of ChiRunning®

Please share your thoughts and any questions in a comment below.

Enjoy,
David Stretanski
ChiRunning®/ChiWalking® Certified Instructor
NJ/Northeast USA

 

Tags

  • running,
  • midfoot,
  • heel strike,
  • relaxation,
  • balance,
  • alignment,
  • efficiency,
  • prevention

9 CommentsLeave a comment below

Sue Young-Johnson Mar 6th, 2011 10:54pm

Hi David, I am an aspiring “chi” instructor and I listened to your introduction and was very impressed!  I just went to instructor workshop in Florida and it was so incredible!  I am looking forward to becoming as comfortable with the delivery as you are.  I am so excited to be a part of a great team that wants to share this great technique (practice)!
Thank you for sharing,
Sue Young-Johnson

David Stretanski Mar 7th, 2011 01:14pm

Sue,
Thank you for your feedback.

The Instructor Training program is certainly a great experience; happy to hear it was for you as well.

David.

I have fairly crummy knees. My ortho said he wouldn’t tell me NOT to run - though he would prefer I didn’t. I also had C4-C6 fusion 3 months ago. The neuro would prefer I not run but won’t say ‘no’. I should add that I am grossly overweight.

All that to ask this: I may have an opportunity to participate in a weight loss ‘contest’. If chosen, they would want me to run…when I say ‘run’ it really is more of a jog. A slow jog.

Right now, my fast walk is nearly as fast as my slow jog.

Would Chi running lesson the impact on my knees and neck? Thanks for any information!

David Stretanski Mar 15th, 2011 07:40pm

Shelly,
Thank you for your comment.

ChiRunning and ChiWalking provide the awareness of principles and the skills to move more efficiently with less stress on the body. This can include the knees and the neck.

Although I have limited information, I might suggest you start with ChiWalking to implement the principles in slow(er) motion. And then move to ChiRunning when you are ready. They are based on the same principles.

David.

David Schafer May 1st, 2011 11:29pm

Hi David,
Great post!  I love your description of landing versus loading. 

I realized long ago, through experience mixed with a little thought, that the heel strike, and associated braking effect, is certainly detrimental to the body as well as efficient forward motion. 

What I find intriguing in this post is the concept of “loading”.  Posture, cadence, looking out/thinking up - all great tips!

I look forward to more on this topic!

Tanmay Joglekar Oct 9th, 2013 11:51pm

Hi, I am beginner in running sessions, I am first of all a Trekker. But I like to keep myself fit and so I started jogging 3 weeks ago. I run for 5 kms in approx. 29 mins, 4 days a week. But from last week, it as started pain in my knees. I want to know a right technique of landing feet on surface. Normally during walking I land my feet on heel. Pls adive me on this.

Jeff Carnivale Oct 14th, 2013 07:31am

Tanmay,

When walking you will land toward the front of your heel(not far to the back) and roll through your stride. During running you optimally should land full foot to the ground. In either situation your goal is to be landing with the foot at the bottom of your postural column, not with the foot in front of the hip. This creates a stopping motion in your stride (most often a heel strike) and requires more effort and lower leg muscle work for propulsion. This is likely the reason for the pain in your knees

Karen Mitchell Nov 26th, 2013 09:05pm

Just ran my first half marathon (at 2:30 which is not amazing but is amazing for me!) and two days after it is my heels that are still bothering me. I believe I am a heel striker, probably at least in part a result of wearing high heels every day for work. How does one correct this?  Said differently, how do I learn to land on my feet differently while running?  Thx!

Great post! Apparently, running isn’t just running..

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