Berkshire Tri Squad coach Gope Walker explains why you should avoid the dreaded heel strike and easy ways to fix it

running feet

There are many ways of running faster, but the biggest issue I find that slows runners down is the dreaded heel strike. Forefront or mid foot running will not only speed you up but will make your running more efficient and smooth, as well as reduce injury.

How does heel striking develop?

Heel striking is caused by overcushioned trainers as they encourage you to make full use of the cushioning around your foot, which includes your heel area. This means you end up landing on your heel as a natural response because you don’t suffer a pain penalty of hitting your heel bone against the ground.

Why is it such an issue?

Not only does heel striking overload joints and muscles but it also acts as a natural brake with every step. Each time you land on your heel, biomechanically your leg is outstretched in front of your torso.

That means the force of your forward motion is returned back up the leg through the joints, tendons and muscles stopping your progress and increasing your risk of various foot, heel, ankle, shin, knee and hip injuries.

Is it hard to change?

Becoming a forefront runner isn’t difficult, although many think it is. For example, if you take your shoes off and run around the garden, you’ll see you naturally become a forefoot runner as your stride adapts to the lack of cushioning. This is because we are naturally born to run in this way.

What can I do to solve it?

  • Try this helium balloon technique, which does require a little imagination on your part!
  • Imagine you have a large helium balloon (about the size of a beach ball), attached to your running top.
  • Visualise the balloon lifting you off the ground, so your heels lift up but your toes are still in contact with the ground.
  • As you run, imagine the balloon is still attached to your shoulders, lifting you off the ground. Be aware of what the balloon is doing to your posture. You should have a straight back and a nice long neck, looking into the distance.
  • Keep your posture strong and concentrate on your technique. If you feel yourself slumping back into heel striking, stop, reset yourself and after a quick rest have another go. You’ll soon notice how much more fluid and efficient your stride is, resulting in quicker splits. Keep practising then go and smash your old heel striking PBs!

Caution

Take it easy to begin with as you’ll be using muscles in ways they have not been used for a long time. Start off with
short runs and build up the distance gradually, taking care to notice problems such as tight muscles and allowing plenty of recovery time before your next run.

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