Heel Strike. It's not just for discipline anymore!
I'm resurrecting my blog to discuss an issue using a serious approach. This is not the norm for my writing style(I have style?). In fact, the majority of my readers (like 4 people?) have come to know me as sarcastic and satirical(as well as poorly skilled). That being said, I am going to try my best to discuss something real, and if I'm lucky, find a way to wiggle in some of my self proclaimed "humor". If I fail, this will be a typical blog(5 minutes you can never get back). Laugh at me, laugh with me, but just laugh, at least a little. Who knows, you may even learn something along the way.
So today I'd like to discuss
Many of the running professionals blogs, books, and cave paintings tell you that that heel striking is worse for you than cigarettes rolled in bacon, but why? Do we ever ask them why? Usually not. We just trust them and work on forming that elusive mid foot strike. We just buy into what we have been told over and over without even wondering the why's.
It is my intention to demonstrate to you today, that I am actually a skilled writer(albeit poorly skilled) as well as why the heel strike isn't actually the problem. Your stride is!
Pssst: This one may be a little long(Mike? Overly wordy? Go figure). Stay with me. it's worth it!
So when we see an unskilled runner running, it often looks something like this....
Of course, if you happen to be at a local "beer run" it may look a bit more like this...
Ok, so what's the problem? Well with the second image, the problem is simply that you're supposed to run, then drink. This runner has their priorities mixed up (or perhaps perfectly straight?). Now the first guy, not so much. This person's form is worse than, um, even mine but is the heel strike causing the issue? Let's find out.
It's time for some physics. Fortunately for you, I don't actually know much about physics, so the odds of this part being over your head aren't likely that great. Stick with me and it'll make sense (I hope).
Well as you can see, using my elite artistic skills, I've added a beautiful addition to the above photo. I call it a "line". Pretty slick, eh? It does actually serve a purpose. It's an arrow but I don't know how to make an arrow head on an angled line so just imagine it, ok? It's showing you the direction of impact forces applied to your leg as you land with it out in front of you while moving forward. They say that running applies 3 to 4 times your body weight when you strike. This means that if this is a 150 lb man(obviously, he isn't me, even if his feet are comically large like mine), the force traveling in the direction of the pseudoarrow is applying 450-600 lbs of pressure. You may notice that force is pushing directly against this persons leg thereby compressing his/her knee joint. This is bad. Knee joints hate to absorb hundreds of pounds of force. This guy looks fast but he's destroying his knees (which he actually doesn't appear to have)., I'm sure you noticed, but his heel was the first thing to touch the ground. That dreaded heel strike is ruining his knees. Or is it?
Now we will look at someone who has good running form (also(especially) not me).
Ready for another horrible red pseudoarrow?
Ok, you can probably see a couple of things here. First, and very importantly, this guy is running in the wrong direction. We will just have to deal with the fact. It's free clip art. Secondly, his leading leg is landing under him instead of way out in front of him, thereby changing how the force is applied to his body. This is good form. The runner's knees aren't absorbing the shock of the strike because the direction of force is no longer compressing the leg.
So what fixed the problem? Was it stopping the heel strike that changed the whole situation? NOPE. It's where his foot made contact with the ground that caused it. When your foot lands out in front of you, force is applied to your knee. When it lands under you, the force is harmlessly disbursed behind you.
So essentially it's practically not possible to over stride while striking on your mid-foot. Over-striding almost always includes heel striking. We tell people to stop heel striking because it it's easier to tell them that and trick them into fixing their issue rather than to explain the actual issue.
Let's take a look at our final stickrunner...
So he's heel striking, but he isn't over striding. Can you guess the direction of the force? Is it compressing the knee? Nope. So much for that devilish heel strike being the problem.
Here's something else to consider.....
Any time your foot is touching the ground in front of your body, it serves no purpose other than to slow you down. Running is done by the push off behind you. Your front foot landing on the ground is simply how you pull it back in and set it up to push off with. If it hits in front of you and compresses your front leg, it's actually slowing you down. Think about it.
So shall we take this a step further? Now that we know about the downsides of over striding, let's explore the upside of not doing it (Shouldn't our fondness of functional knees be gift enough? Let's be greedy)....
So you've done it(and maybe I'll even teach you how). You've stopped overstriding. Your knees are going to survive a little longer. Is that it? We haven't even gotten to the best part yet (again, aside from the whole knee saving thing). SPEEEEEEEEED! <drools>.
That's right. A proper stride makes you faster. Think about it. If your feet are spending less time out in front of you, and you've presumably not gained the innate ability to float longer, they are spending an increased amount of time under and behind you, setting up to, and pushing off. More pushing off = more win!
Ok, so, um, then how do I stop over-striding?
I'm glad I asked!! It's actually not all that hard, but may take a bit of practice. In fact, two of the biggest tricks, your mom taught you....
1) Stand up straight! You heard her. Posture is the easiest way to improve your running form. Stand up straight!! Nice and tall. It's actually a lot more difficult to over-stride when you do this. Give it a try. Put that wicked tight washboard abs core to work(If your washboard looks a bit more like a pillow, it's ok. Me too. This stuff still works)!
2) BABY STEPS! I bet you've heard that approach before? This time I want you to take it literally. Take smaller, quicker steps. It's hard to over-stride when you take baby steps. Get your google on and check out "Running Cadence". You'll see a lot of articles out there that talk about it and how to improve it. In fact, these steps I'm teaching you (or trying) right now improve your cadence.
And lastly, use visualization. Picture yourself pushing off with each step. Focus your attention on that aspect of your stride. Push, push, push, push. It's the only part of running that propels you. Everything else you do is merely setting your next leg up to push off.
Am I correct? Maybe? For my last trick, I want to show you a video for a couple of different reasons. I want you to look at Meb's stride. See where his feet land, see how efficiently he runs. Doesn't over-stride, and the vast majority of his feet's time is spent pushing off. Not floating in the air and certainly not reaching out in front of him. The other reason I show you a video of Meb? Because, MEB!!
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_P1Y6b1RXM0&t=21s (Yep, I'm making you click for yourself)
Well there you have it. I've presented you the information from my research, personal testing, and studying of a running legend. It's up to you. Just remember, I'm not a professional runner nor a very good blogger so take it for what it's worth