The widely held assumption is that heel striking is associated with the use of more traditional running shoes with padding under the heel and forefoot/midfoot striking is more associated with barefoot or minimal running shoes. The probable reason is the comfort of heel strike with a padded shoe and the somewhat discomfort associated with the use of no padding under the heel. Obviosuly you can forefoot/midfoot strike in a running shoe with a padded heel and we have all seen the occasional example of someone in a minimal shoe or no shoe heel striking. But, how common is it? Thanks to Peter Larsen, we now have some idea:
Comparison of foot strike patterns of barefoot and minimally shod runners in a recreational road race
Journal of Sport and Health Science; In Press
Previous studies of foot strike patterns of distance runners in road races have typically found that the overwhelming majority of shod runners initially contact the ground on the rearfoot. However, none of these studies has attempted to quantify foot strike patterns of barefoot or minimally shod runners. This study classifies foot strike patterns of barefoot and minimally shod runners in a recreational road race.
High-speed video footage was obtained of 169 barefoot and 42 minimally shod distance runners at the 2011 New York City Barefoot Run. Foot strike patterns were classified for each runner, and frequencies of forefoot, midfoot, and rearfoot striking were compared between the barefoot and minimally shod groups.
A total of 59.2% of barefoot runners were forefoot strikers, 20.1% were midfoot strikers, and 20.7% were rearfoot strikers. For minimally shod runners, 33.3% were forefoot strikers, 19.1% were midfoot strikers, and 47.6% were rearfoot strikers. Foot strike distributions for barefoot and minimally shod runners were significantly different both from one another and from previously reported foot strike distributions of shod road racers.
Foot strike patterns differ between barefoot and minimally shod runners, with forefoot striking being more common, and rearfoot striking less common in the barefoot group.
What is in the above abstract is fairly clear and nothing in the full paper jumps out at me as being an issue with the methods and analysis. The conclusion to the study is clear:
The results of this study provide insight into the role of footwear in determining foot strike pattern. They indicate that the majority of barefoot runners tend to contact the ground on the midfoot or forefoot when running on an asphalt road. This contrasts with the typical rearfoot striking pattern observed in conventionally shod runners on hard surfaces. Results also show that a minimally cushioned running shoe may not perfectly simulate barefoot running, with frequency of midfoot and forefoot striking being approximately equal to rearfoot striking
The only surprise for me is that he found so many heel strikers in the barefoot (20.7%) and minimal groups (47.6%). That was way higher than I would have assumed. It also points to just transitioning to barefoot or minimalism does not mean that you adopt a midfoot/forefoot running technique which is what is often argued happens….and we all seen the propaganda that heel striking is the root of all evil. … go figure!
As always, I go where the evidence takes me until convinced otherwise and this study tells me a lot of barefoot/minimalism runners heel strike.
Larson, P. (2014). Comparison of foot strike patterns of barefoot and minimally shod runners in a recreational road race Journal of Sport and Health Science DOI: 10.1016/j.jshs.2014.03.003