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Why a majority of runners, even among international elites, are heel strikers by Blaise Dubois

runningclinic Blaise DuboisBelow is the text of a newsletter that my friend Blaise Dubois, a physiotherapist from Quebec City, just sent out regarding the topic of heel striking. If you don’t subscribe to Blaise’s newsletter, I recommend that you do – he sends out a lot of interesting information, and posts like this one are great for sparking debate and discussion – you can subscribe here.

I “modified” the English a bit in the post below – hope that’s ok Blaise – and have included my comments where appropriate in blue italics.

Phobia of heel striking is starting to reach runners who, seeing themselves in action on pictures, are questioning their biomechanical effectiveness. And they are right to be concerned because some with heel strikes experience negative consequences to their performance and the incidence of injuries. Here are some related explanations.

10 things to know about runners heel striking, answering the question “Why a majority of runners, even among international elites, are heel strikers?”

1. Pictures rarely reveal reality. Only rely on high definition cameras or a highly experienced eye. A picture taken just before the impact loading will show the foot in dorsiflexion (pointing upward) for a majority of runners.

(RB – I agree completely on this one, race photos can often be deceiving, and they capture a moment in time from what is a very dynamic and rapid set of movements. High speed video is necessary to accurately classify foot strike.)

2. 60% of high level athletes running road race (even international elites) are heel strikers… (Note that they all use “racers” running shoes with heel-toe vertical drop of 4-10mm … a technical aspect of the shoe that promotes heel striking!)… but 90% of track athletes are forefoot strikers.

(RB – 60% number is from the fastest group of runner’s in Hasegawa, 2007)

3. The majority of these good level athletes, however, have what we call a”prorioceptive heel strike” (the foot flattens smoothly as soon as it hits the ground). We believe this way the foot grounds is no more harmful and no less effective than midfoot or forefoot striking because it doesn’t involve a strong braking phase or brutal impact force.

(RB – Another good point. I have seen Blaise lecture on a few occasions, and he’s very clear that all heel strikes are not the same, and that being a “heel-striker” is not necessarily a bad thing. For example, check out Abebe Bikila’s “proprioreceptive” heel strike in the video in this post and in the photo below. I have gotten emails from runners expressing frustration that they cannot stop heel striking. My general take would be that if you are running well and injury free, your mechanics are otherwise ok, and your heel strike is not extreme, then don’t worry about it.)

Bikila Footstrike

Abebe Bikila’s “proprioreceptive” heel strike

4. The further we go back in the race pack, the more heel striking we encounter, and the more that “proprioceptive” heel strikes give way to extreme heel strikes.

(RB – I would classify an “extreme” heel strike as one in which the foot is highly dorsiflexed on contact, usually with the lower leg (shin) angled forward from the knee (i.e., an extended knee). The angle between the bottom of the shoe and ground can sometimes approach 45 degrees (see photo below and compare to Bikila above)! Incidentally, I would say that an extreme forefoot strike might be just as bad, especially if the heel is not allowed to contact the ground. For myself, when running shod, I tend to  shoot for a midfoot strike, but don’t much mind if I move a bit toward the heel or forefoot – I probably do all three quite regularly. Just my opinion, but a range from mild heel to mild forefoot is probably fine.)

green overstrider

Extreme heel strike at the moment of contact (filmed at 300fps) – this type of foot strike is not at all uncommon among recreational shod runners

5. Over 80% of barefoot runners do not heel strike… and 20% of them have a “proprioceptive” heel strike.

(RB – in other words, it would be very unlikely to see a barefoot runner landing with the sole of the foot angled 45 degrees relative to the ground. You can heel strike barefoot, but an extreme heel strike would do damage quickly. Running surface will also likely play a role in the exact nature of the barefoot foot strike.)

6. The heel strike is not the only thing to look at. A heel strike may be acceptable if the shinbone is vertical (RB – as in Bikila above), the knee is bent, and the impact loads just in front of the center of gravity. A biomechanical analysis must therefore be global. The 4 biomechanical clues which often combine and express the same problem are:

A. less vertical orientation of the tibia/shinbone (RB – i.e., reaching with the lower leg as seen in the photo above)

B. deceased knee flexion during contact (RB – an extended knee at contact like in the photo above)

C. ground contact far ahead of the center of gravity (RB – again caused by reaching with the lower leg as seen in the photo above)

D. the heel strikes the ground first (RB – the thing that most people focus on, but maybe not best to focus on in isolation if other factors are ok)

(RB – a good example of where it is important to consider all of these factors is Meb Keflezghi (see photos below from Boston [top] and NYC [below]). He has a fairly prominent heel strike, but his lower leg, though still angled forward a bit, is more vertical than in the extreme heel striking runner shown in the photo above, particularly in the NYC Marathon photo. Meb is an example of a guy that compete at a very high level with what at times appears to be a pretty big heel strike, so there are exceptions to every rule.)

Keflezghi heel strike

Meb Keflezghi in the 2010 Boston Marathon (note, the location was not as downhill as it appears in the photo – camera angling was off)

Keflezghi heel strike nyc

Meb Keflezghi at the 2010 NYC Marathon

7. We do not know (scientifically) if local, national or international level athletes would improve biomechanical effectiveness over the long term by making technical efforts to run better (correcting points A B C and D)… but the trend suggests that it is possible!

(RB – data show that heel striking becomes less common in faster runners, even in road races – Hasegawa, 2007)

8. The majority of athletes have developed bad habits caused by shoes that affect their biomechanics. They mostly train (up to 80% of their training volume) with cushioned shoes with a big heel-toe differential, a type of footwear which promotes less efficient biomechanics and a larger heel strike. Their biomechanical learning is consequently different from their biomechanical performance, which may explain why many of them retain these biomechanics when in competition.

(RB – in other words, perhaps we should do more of our training in the shoes that we will compete in so that we can properly train our bodies to be acclimated to the biomechanics needed on race day.)

9. I think if athletes incorporated more barefoot training, ran 100% with their performance shoes, and if their competition shoes were “heel-toe zero differential”, we would see slightly different biomechanics and most likely improved performance for some … simply by improving their “running economy”!

(RB – I would qualify this a bit. In order to run a long race like a marathon in zero drop shoes, one probably needs to do most, if not all of their training in zero drop shoes. I have seen many forefoot runners early in a race fall back on their heels later on – it can be very tiring on unadjusted calf muscles. But, it gets to the point – we need to acclimate in training to what we will be using in competition. I don’t train exclusively in zero drop shoes, so I generally don’t run races in them either.)

10. I think if recreational runners incorporated more barefoot training, ran 100% with performance shoes, and if these “racer” shoes had “heel-toe zero differential”, we would see much different biomechanics and improved performance for the vast majority… simply by improving their “running economy”!

(RB – I agree. Incorporating some amount of barefoot work can be a great addition to almost anybody’s training repertoire. Lately I’ve been doing a bit of barefoot running on concrete/asphalt, and must say it has been quite enjoyable. Blaise even inspired me to run a mile barefoot last week when we were out in Boulder, and I went for a long barefoot walk yesterday with my family. You don’t need to go barefoot full-time, but small amounts can be a great way to get more in-tune with your stride mechanics.)

Enjoy the analysis!

Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments!

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About Peter Larson

This post was authored by Peter Larson. Pete is a biology teacher, track/soccer coach, and dad (x3) with a passion for running, soccer, and science. If you'd like to learn a little bit more about who I am and what I do, click here, or visit


  1. Wonderful information as always.

  2. Jason Fitzgerald says:

    Great stuff Pete. I’d add that in my experience and other close friends who might be considered locally competitive (2:25 marathoner, 4:30 milers, etc.), that not all barefoot/minimalist running is the same. Barefoot strides and faster workouts done in minimalist shoes with zero heel-toe drop shoes provide more of a biomechanical advantage than slow runs or jogging. It seems that when you frequently run fast barefoot or in very minimalist shoes, you get accustomed to a more biomechanical gait more quickly than with just jogging. Have you noticed this anywhere else?

    • Pete Larson says:

      I will say this, when I was working hard on my form last year, one of the most effective things I did was to hit the track in a pair of XC flats. I found that running really fast helped to instill good form. Barefoot cooldowns in the infield grass were nice as well.

      • Joe Garland says:

        As to your point, Pete, in Daniels’ Running Formula there is a perhaps surprising emphasis on Repeats, which are fast, full-recovery runs of 200 to 800. As you say, the point of these is to concentrate on form, to keep a solid, smooth rhythm, what I consider grooving the form. This translates into long runs (and races) because it helps avoid a form break-down as fatigue sets in. (These are also the most fun workouts one can do, esp. with a group. You get to run fast and have full recovery.)

        I do all of my track work in my flats and often do strides and a warm-down barefoot.

        • Pete Larson says:

          I agree Joe – I think track intervals/repeats are my favorite workout.

          • Joe Garland says:

            Just to be clear, Repeats and Intervals are quite different. The former are fun. The latter are hell.

          • Blaise Dubois says:

            Running fast is one thing… running at the speed of your race pace is another thing. I think that the best to improve running economy by efficient running form is the race pace… the learning process needs repetition of THE specific movement… so train with your competition shoes at the race pace many time in the weeks (15 sec race pace, followed by 2 minutes of jogging, to be sure that those sets are very easy and not physiologically demanding… rep many times in a jog).

          • Joe Garland says:

            I disagree with this. Upfront I’ll note that I follow the Jack Daniels approach. Runners don’t have a “race pace”. They have various race paces. They run 5Ks to Half-marathons to marathons. (“Marathon Pace” is distinct and I’ll get to that.) As I said, Repeats facilitate form across the spectrum. By concentrating on running at speed I concentrate on running economically. This translates into improved form at every pace. This, at least, is my experience. It helps in speedwork and in long runs. And in races.

            Picking 10K pace leaves one running considerably slower than the pace for intervals of 1000 or 1200. Against that type of training, 15 seconds at “race pace” is nothing, under 100 meters (followed by 2 minutes of jogging), and only a bit if any slower than 20-minute tempo pace.

            So I’m doing all sorts of workouts at or faster than “race pace”. They are working other systems and incidentally duplicating “the specific movement”.

            Per Daniels: “Repetition training improves economy by helping the runner eliminate unnecessary arm and leg motion, recruit the most desirable motor units while running at or near race pace, and feel comfortable at faster speeds of running.” (Daniels’ Running Formula (2d ed.), at 25. Chapter 9 of the book is devoted to the subject.

            I agree that doing a chunk of marathon-training at marathon pace is appropriate, but that is for a different purpose.

          • Pete Larson says:

            Joe – I think Blaise’s point was that you need to do training at the pace of the race you are planning to run to simulate the in-race condition. I don’t think he was saying that running at other paces is wrong.

          • Joe Garland says:

            Sorry, Pete, but I just can’t see how running at “10K pace” for 15 seconds fully recovered bears any relationship to coming through the 4-mile mark of a 10K.

          • Pete Larson says:

            I personally wouldn’t do the 15 second thing either. I prefer 200s and 400s myself, and doing them at race pace makes perfect sense to me. Again, ignoring the 15 second bit, I think the point is to acclimate regularly to the conditions of the race you plan to run, including speed, gear, etc.

          • Sean Cannon says:

            The 15 second intervals Blaise speaks about are to “train” running form and have absolutly nothing to do with physiology… only mechanics.

          • Pete Larson says:

            That’s what I suspected. Sometimes the written word does not come across clearly!

            Thanks Sean!

          • eh, not really. Blaise says that ” the best [way, I assume] to improve running economy by efficient running form is the race pace”. I found this simply isn’t the case. Running intervals at marathon isn’t really going to much for my form/ economy, even in the marathon. There are other benefits but these are not discussed.

            I’ve read up on a lot of coaching and experienced a lot of coaches. The single common denominator in them is strides. All of them do this in training. Fast running is efficient running. 95%-100% for 50m-100m is THE most efficient running one can do- even in shoes **gasp**.  You have to be efficient to go your fastest.  

            And while Race Pace is more efficient than loping along, it simply doesn’t compare to running at or near your fastest in efficacy

          • Pete Larson says:

            Depends on how you define efficiency. If your talking about glycogen usage, running 100% is very inefficient. You’re anaerobic and rip through it quickly.
            For a marathon, I find semi long runs at race pace to be the best prep. For a 5k, I like 200s or 400s at race pace or a bit faster. We’re all individuals with variable physiology, so there is no one size fits all answer.
            Don’t know why you felt the need to insert the gasp, neither Blaise nor I are regular barefoot runners, but we both use it as a training tool.

  3. Don’t you find that slower runners, 10+ min/mile, also forefoot, midfoot strike?

    • Pete Larson says:

      Yes. Just wish I had a bunch of video of people running barefoot at that pace!

      • I’m ~10:30 min/mile runner rigth know and I do forefoot/midfoot strike. I was a heel striking when using traditional running shoes but changed of form occured automatically when I – for curiosity mostly – tried running in racing flats (4mm heel to toes drop). I was increasing gradually the volume of training in flats and quickly I found myself running with a new style also in  this highly cushioned 10+mm drop shoes.

        I also want to comment on that “I would say that an extreme forefoot strike might be just as bad, especially if the heel is not allowed to contact the ground.”, based on my – yet very small – personal experience. I was experimenting with changing my running form when recovering from injury so first it was only jogging. After a while I was feeling really comfortable with a new striking pattern. However when a time come to include some faster running I had problems to do so not because my endurance was not yet good enough but simply I could achieve it with a new movements pattern. Then analyzing possible reasons I found that unconciously I was excesively avoiding contact of the heel with the ground. I tried running more relaxed, I could clearly feel now the moment of landing of the heel (although forefoot/midfoot still seem to contact first) and this way no problems with any kind of workout.

    • Pete Larson says:

      Yes. Just wish I had a bunch of video of people running barefoot at that pace!

  4. Question for you Pete:

    Walking form is usually heel-toe regardless of whether shoes are used or not. And good running form usually minimizes heel strike. 

    But when one run very slowly isn’t it possible that ones running form should crossover from midfoot/forefoot to heel-toe?

    Basically what I’m asking is, does  form change with speed, and if it doesn’t should it?

    • Pete Larson says:

      Good question. I would agree that walking is usually heel-toe, but I doubt you’d ever see a 45 degree heel strike like the one in the image I posted in a barefoot walker. If you walk around barefoot for a bit, you’ll be surprised at how often you land on your forefoot if you are doing anything other than going in a straight line. Even then, if you are barefoot on a surface that has any type of debris, you’ll often walk on your forefoot as well, because bringing the heel down on a rock hurts. I went for a 1.5 mile barefoot walk yesterday, and my landing was all over the place depending on what was underfoot. This is an interesting read on this subject….

      I’ve seen runners of all speeds using all kinds of foot strikes. What’s really interesting is if you look at back of pack marathoners, some have no aerial phase in their gait, but they are also clearly not walking. Running is defined as a gait in which both feet are off the ground simultaneously for some portion of the gait cycle. This leads me to suspect that there is a gray area between running and walking, and I’m not sure quite how to describe it. So yea, form definitely changes with speed, but foot strike is just one aspect of form, and I’m not sure I would equate slow running with walking.

  5. Dan Nechodom says:

    Great stuff.  I think, though, that on point 6 B you meant ‘decreased knee flexion’ rather than ‘deceased.’  I agree it’s problem, but probably not THAT bad.

  6. I use cushioned shoes all the time as I’m a supinator, and race in them also (Adidas response cushion). I’ve managed to improve my form over the last couple of years, though after toe-off my feet go a little sideways in photographs. I am however landing with me feet mostly straight, so I’m guessing it’s not much of a problem and just looks a little inelegant?

    • Pete Larson says:

      Always tough to say anything definitive without video, but my general take is that if you are running well and injury free, best not to mess with success.
      Sent from my iPad

  7. Dave Robertson says:

    Great read. Thanks Pete and Blaise.
    I particularly like the phrase “proprioreceptive” heel strike. I watched a young Aussie elite runner (Harry Summers) in the City 2 Surf
    (14K road run in Sydney) last weekend.
    He ran in Vibram Bikilas and definitely appeared to be using this type of heel strike – with good effect, only narrowly missing out on a podium finish.
    Pre-race video on Harry:

    • Blaise Dubois says:

      The term ‘proprioceptive heel stike’ come from Sean Cannon from the running clinic… after many biomechanical assessments and observation of our patients.

      • Joe Garland says:

        What does it mean?

        • Pete Larson says:

          If I remember Sean Cannon’s description correctly, it’s a heel strike where you “feel” the ground first with the heel, but don’t load heavily on it. Basically what Bikila is doing in that photo. Kind of gets back to the post Jay Dicharry did where he said you can heel strike but not have much of an impact transient if your mechanics are otherwise good.

          • Sean Cannon says:

            Hi Pete,
            Ya that’s exactly what I meant… The heel strikes the ground FIRST (proprioceptive) but does not weightbear.  Didn’t mean to overcomplexify this issue!!
            Take care,

  8. Hi Pete:
    Thanks for all of the great posts on this topic.  I have been reading this for the last 8 months or so.  I have been running in the Kinvaras since the end of last summer.  I seem to have developed a gait with these that have me landing on mid to forefoot, but I definitely have a longer stride now.  I think it is because I am no longer catching the heel.  I have run PRs in all distances since switching to the Kinvara, including my Boston Marathon (3:23) this year, and a 6 minute improvement in my 1/2 marathon time (1:30).  I recently ran in the Falmouth Road Race, and had my gait analyzed by New Balance.  I was wearing sandals, so that had me put on a NB shoe (NB 890). I ran on the treadmill, which I don’t do often.  They gave me lots of advice including leaning forward more, and trying to get up to 180 strides per min.  What do you think of this type of analysis they are doing?
    My video is at:…, I am now confused about what I should be doing….  Keep up the great work!

    • Let me try that link again

      • Pete Larson says:


        Short clip, but looks pretty good to me. Definitely doesn’t seem like any overstride there. Personally, I haven’t found the advice to lean forward to be all that helpful. I see so many conflicting things about that one, some people emphasize standing tall, others the forward lean. I see elites doing both. I don’t focus on it much at all. As for cadence, I don’t view 180 as a magic number, just a reference point. If you are at 164 now and want to up it a bit, try adding 5%, which studies have shown to reduce knee loading. That being said, if you are running PR’s and not at all injured, maybe best to keep doing what you are doing and not mess with success!


    • Robert Osfield says:

      Hi John,

      Unforunately I wasn’t able to get the newbalance page to play your video so can’t provide any comments on your gait – Pete’s has seen it though and hasn’t spotted anything particular wrong so you must be roughly on the right track.

      I did browser the page’s link to advice on good running form and sadly it repeats the pseudo elements of Chi Running/Pose Method so I can’t help feel that they really understand the laws of physics or what consitents a good running form.  Seems the snake oil salesman our back in force in the shoe industry, even in the mimialist sector.

      The big errors in the advice is about posture and forward lean.  Forward lean doesn’t provide any propulsion ever – gravity is vertical force so can’t ever  provide horizontal force.  The reason why us bipeds lean is for balance, plain and simple.  Whether we are running into a headwind or accelerating we lean forward to remain in balance, also when we turn we lean into the bend for balance.  

      The subtle thing is that we use overbalance to initiate a new acceleration – be that into a bend, to speed up and as our bodies are at the apropriate lean are legs/feet start generating the required acceleration force.  Also when we slow down we lean back and then initiate the breaking force, and to stop ourselves leaning back with generate a tad more breaking force than the lean requires and we automatically straight up.  This is subltey of interaction between lean and accelerateion is something we all lean as in infant when we first learn to walk.   You certainly don’t need NewBalance to teach you it, and your certainly don’t need them to start laying on the psuedo science that the lean gives you propulsion as it doesn’t – it’s you muscles that are doing that.

      To compound things it sounds like they are doing treadmill analysis as a guide to fixing problems in running form, and no doubt using their broken model of good running form so will start seeing problems where they are none and then forcing problems into runners into this broken form.  The reason why it’s proposterous to talk about lean on a treadmill is that their is no horizontal accelerations or any wind resistance – the only two valid reasons to lean are completely absent.  The perfect lean on a treadmill is *no* lean – your torso should be straight up and balanced over your hips.

      As for cadence, I’m with Pete, 180 is a useful guide, but no one should stick to 180 as some gold standard.  You cadence will, and should vary depending upon your speed and type of terrain. If you are long legs than it’s likely that your optimum cadence will be lower than for a shorter legged athlete.  When running up or downhill or getting to near sprinting speed it’s also good push cadence up above it’s usual.  You’ll likely have a core cadence about what you’ll mostly run at – for many runners this is too low, and likely in your case it could do with raising a bit towards 180 or perhaps even beyond.

      Good luck with your running form.

      • Pete Larson says:

        Thanks for posting your thoughts on lean Robert – you said it better than I could, and I agree with you. I don’t see the forward lean advice to be of much use.

      • Thanks for the comment Robert. During a 20-miler this weekend, I decided not to think about these things.  I think I will have trouble with a quicker shorter stride.

  9. Ricosta Shoes says:

    Your running shoes must be comfortable. It should not be too small or too big for your foot because it might lead to an accident. Also, the sole must not be slippery.

  10. Robert Osfield says:

    Thanks for posting Blaise article and your own comments.  I agree with the idea of highlighting the spectrum of heel strike from the mild heel strike with bent knee and extreme heel strike with straight knee.   
    I found it a little odd to call the mild heel strike case a “proproceptive” heel strike, as I can’t help but feel that it’s rather pushing things to label the extreme heel strike as non proproceptive. It seems to me that propoception as a concept is rather othogonal to any specifc form.

    Althought  can’t say I have a better name for a mild heel strike with bent knee though…  healthy/unhealthy? low impact/high impact?

    I was surprised to see Blaise call for zero drop shoes across board, I applaud this as I can’t see any reason why one can’t have a low impact heel strike, midfoot or forefoot strike in a zero drop show – but I can see lots of reason why an elevated heel is bad for all foot strikes.  Zero drop for everyone is still quite a radical departure from the norm, I get the sense it’s almost exclusive the midfoot/forefoot proponents that are the early adopters of zero/low drop shoes.

    I also applaud the suggestion that all runners should add barefoot running into their training mix.  I don’t it’s just teaching of good form that it provides, from my own reaction to few miles of barefoot running I’ve done – it’s not form but the revelation that your own feet and legs have ample cushioning to ensure a soft landing.  It breaks down the fear of going without lots of protection. There is alos the pure sensuous joy that barefooting can provide when walking or running through the countryside – the ground comes alive and becomes part of your experience of  the environment.  Something might be unexepectably hot, cold, wet, squigy, hard, coarse, smooth. Even when you wear minimialist footware you loose most of this fine senstation.

    • Pete Larson says:

      I think we’re pretty much on the same page Robert. Barefoot is great if for no other reason than the fact that it show you that your body is more than capable of handling the cushioning needed during running. Running barefoot on smooth, flat asphalt is quite enjoyable.

      I think the term proprioreceptive was just to point out that the heel senses ground impact first, but does not undergo major loading in a Bikila style heel strike. I tend to just say mild heel strike, but I think they mean essentially the same thing.

      Blaise has actually been prescribing racing flats to injured runners for 10+ years in his physiotherapy practice in Quebec – he doesn’t necessarily specify that they must be zero drop, but rather just lightweight and low lift. Even for myself, I don’t foresee going zero drop full time as I like to mix things up, and a 4mm lift seems to sync pretty well with my body for the bulk of my miles.

    • Michael Baker says:

      Robert and/or Pete,
      Given that gravity is indeed a vertical force, I’m not so sure that the purpose of the lean is balance (though I’ve been wrong before!)
      If you lean forward from the ankles, you will instinctively step forward in order to prevent that vertical force from putting you flat on your face. Why not lift the foot off of the ground and set it down rather than pushing off? It seems to me that this would decrease the need for propulsive toe-offs that many believe lead to injury and which necessarily increase vertical oscillation.

      • Robert Osfield says:

        Gravity is vertical force because the way we define the vertical is by using gravity itself, whether it’s building a vertical wall using a plumb line or standing upright. 

        The idea of leaning from the ankles and using gravity to pull us forward is appealing idea, we all want to get something for free so it’s an idea that we’d want to be true.  When we stand still and lean forward and start accelerating forwards and downwards it even quite easy to make ourselves believe that it’s gravity pulling us forward.  However, any time you start here about getting something for free to have to stop yourself and take a step back and work out what is really going on.

        First check to make when balancing the books is to ask where the energy is coming from, we can indeed trade gravitational potential energy for kinetic energy by lowering our height.  We can only keep using gravity as an energy source if we keep lowering our height.

        So… what happens when you run… our lowest point in our stride is at mid stance when the knee is  bent the most – this is point where we will have traded the most gravitational enegy for speed, then we after we’ve pushed off we sail through the air and reach our heightest point – at this point we are higher our height when standing.   Keep thinking about this point, we are higher than when we are standing, so there absolutely no way we could trade gravitational energy because we’re actually in deficit – we’ve have to overcome gravity, we can’t use it.

        But still I’d guess you’ll have this nagging doubt that you feel like gravity is pulling your forward when you lean from standing.  How do we explain how we feel from what we know must be happening?  One way to tease apart what is happening is think about standing still on a skateboard then leaning forward first whilst still retaining balance, you’re lean but haven’t started moving yet?  So lean itself doesn’t seem to be generating a horizontal force on the skateboard.  OK, lets push things further and now lean past the point of balance and what happens?  Well your head goes forward and feet go backwards and the skateboard shoot out from underneath you, and you land like a sack of bricks vertical down on the spot.   Hopefully you’re now getting even more suspicious about forward lean, from the energy perspective it doesn’t add up, and if you stand on movable surface lean doesn’t help either.

        So.. how on earth do you start moving forward when standing on the ground but not when standing on the earth?  What makes you move forward?  You do!  When we lean forward we instinctively push off producing a horizontal force so that we get back into balance before we fall over.  You can artificially delay or reduce the push off but what you’ll get is more of stumble as your body falls lower than is efficient, it’s inefficient as your body has to work doubly hard to raise itself back up to normal running heights.

        There are no free lunches when it comes to running, gravity is the single biggest load you have to deal with, the cost of supporting our bodies is why running is so much more costly than cycling.  Deluding oneself with a cheap trick of leaning and not pushing off like is taught in Chi Running isn’t saving anything it’s just moving the cost elsewhere. It’s like when a magician distracts you during a trick so you are looking in the wrong place to spot his switch.

        Now not pushing off too strongly is good thing as it can help avoid injuries to the foot and Achilles.  However, pushing off is still a natural element of running gait for everyone, our feet and lower legs are evolved to do this – it’s part of what makes us efficient runners, so it’s a case of good balance – don’t overload as it’ll cause injuries, but short changing push off will just lead to inefficiencies and increasing loads elsewhere in the stride.

        • Pete Larson says:

          Well put Robert!

        • Michael Baker says:


          That makes sense to me. I’m not really one who believes we get something for nothing. I’ve found that a forward lean helps me load under my center of gravity, but that doesn’t establish anything other than that it’s helpful in making my stride more efficient, not that it moves me forward. 
          Many elite runners have a fairly pronounced forward lean though, Moses Mosop comes to mind… Thoughts on why this is?

          • Robert Osfield says:

            HI Mike,

            The lean to look at is in his upper body, what the legs are doing at this precise moment in time is just a snapshot from a highly dynamic motion.  His upper body has modest lean.

            How much you will lean your upper body to remain in perfect balance will depend upon the external forces upon it – which are gravity and aerodynamic drag.  Gravity never changes but aerodynamic drag goes up by the square of speed so for the elites you’d expect
            to have to lean balance drag in a more significant way to the average runner.  If they are running twice as fast then they’ll need to lean four times as much to achieve the same balance.  Even with this the lean doesn’t have to be that significant.


          • Michael Baker says:

            Good stuff! learn something new everyday!

          • Eric Chan says:

            Because he’s running at 2:55/K marathon pace. :-D

            Plus the dude runs on his toes. Like 100m sprint for 42.2Km.

  11. Test23432 says:

    the original article would’ve been great without all the blue distraction. 

  12. gait analysis camera says:


    Its brilliant article guys, I liked it. 


  13. Tom Graham-Watson says:

    Hi Pete,
    I’m 18 and have been doing 400m training for 6 months or so and heel strike both in my trainers and the spikes(flats) which I do the track sessions in. It also seems natural for me to have a slight heel strike when barefoot on tarmac – will this (most likely) change to becoming more of a forefoot strike if I stick at the barefoot training?

    • Pete Larson says:

      It might change with additional barefoot training, hard to say. No long term studies on whether some people will remain heel strikers even with extensive barefoot training. I would say that if you are otherwise running well, don’t obsess too much about your foot strike, a mild heel strike is probably not a huge deal if all else is good. Avoiding overstriding is probably more critical to both reducing injury risk and improving economy.

  14. andy-1967 says:

    much appreciate this article. Thanks for post! My wife and I were having a very similar debate and although we both agreed a heel strike was not good we soon realised that you can still heel strike with the bent knee (shin virtical to ground) We were not sure and this helped in heeps and gave us a new phrase!: proprioceptive heel strike (answers a lot of questions. Thanks again

    Andy and Julie from

Shop Running Warehouse – Summer 2023


  1. […] on your midfoot, though a slight heel strike (I’m a moderate heel striker myself) or “proprioceptive heel strike” isn’t necessarily […]

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