Whether you heel-strike or land on the midfoot makes little difference to marathon performance suggests a new study by Dr. Brian Hanley.

LINK: https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fspor.2020.00102/full 

New research has shown that there were more similarities than differences between heel-strikers and those who land on the midfoot or forefoot. Specifically this was with World Championship marathon runners.

The study, available for free download from the open access journal, Frontiers in Sports and Active Living, analysed 28 men and 28 women competing in the marathon at the 2017 IAAF World Championship, held in London. The athletes analysed included six British and Irish runners.

The athletes were analysed using 3D techniques. Their running biomechanics were measured near the end of the loop on the last two laps. Half of the athletes analysed in each race were heel-strikers. The other half were midfoot or forefoot strikers.

No discernible differences

Surprisingly, there were no differences in step length, step frequency or speed between how each group landed. However, the midfoot and forefoot strikers did land with their foot a few centimetres closer to the body. In turn they relied more on distance covered during flight.

Nearly all of the technical differences between heel-strikers and midfoot-strikers unsurprisingly occurred at first contact with the ground, with the rest of the running movement virtually identical.

Men and women had similar running styles.  Men’s faster running speeds occurred mostly because they had longer steps. The main visual difference between the sexes was that men bent their knees more when swinging them forwards under the body in recovery.

Neither mid foot or heel striking preventing a slow down

As expected, nearly all athletes slowed from the second-last to the last lap.  Neither footstrike pattern helped to prevent this.

Heel-strikers are advised that changing to midfoot or forefoot-striking is unlikely to provide any improvements in marathon performance, and to work within their natural style to develop cardiovascular and muscular endurance.

What to take away?

Fast Running Coach Robbie Britton suggests “this isn’t information to change how you’re running, but just goes to show that if someone suggests they’ve “cracked the code”, it’s just not that simple.”

“We’re all really different and if you’re a forefoot, mid-foot or heel striker and you’re not injured then take confidence in your running  from this research.”

Interested readers can contact the authors for more information by emailing Dr Brian Hanley (b.hanley@leedsbeckett.ac.uk).

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