How poor are runners at self-identifying their foot strike pattern?

I previously reported on some comments from a running conference last year:

  • In an online survey via Runners World that got 2,169,282 responses, the self reported foot strike was 15.7% forefoot strikers; 40.9% heel strikers; 43.4% midfoot strikers
  • BUT; observed in slow motion videos of 11000 runners at the 2013 Boston Marathon: 95.6% heel strikers; 2.4% midfoot strikers; 2.1% forefoot strikers
  • BUT, in the lab: of 17 runners that said they were heel strikers, only 14 really were; of the 20 that said they were midfoot strikers, not one them actually really were; of the 7 that said they were forefoot strikers, only 2 of them really were; ie 93% of those who said they were non-heel strikers were actually heel strikers

Now we have another study looking at the same thing…

Lower Extremity Biomechanics and Self-Reported Foot-Strike Patterns Among Runners in Traditional and Minimalist Shoes.
Donald L. Goss, Michael Lewek, Bing Yu, William B. Ware, Deydre S. Teyhen, and Michael T. Gross
Journal of Athletic Training In-Press.
Context:  The injury incidence rate among runners is approximately 50%. Some individuals have advocated using an anterior–foot-strike pattern to reduce ground reaction forces and injury rates that they attribute to a rear–foot-strike pattern. The proportion of minimalist shoe wearers who adopt an anterior–foot-strike pattern remains unclear.
Objective:  To evaluate the accuracy of self-reported foot-strike patterns, compare negative ankle- and knee-joint angular work among runners using different foot-strike patterns and wearing traditional or minimalist shoes, and describe average vertical-loading rates.
Design:  Descriptive laboratory study.
Setting:  Research laboratory.
Patients or Other Participants:  A total of 60 healthy volunteers (37 men, 23 women; age = 34.9 ± 8.9 years, height = 1.74 ± 0.08 m, mass = 70.9 ± 13.4 kg) with more than 6 months of experience wearing traditional or minimalist shoes were instructed to classify their foot-strike patterns.
Intervention(s):  Participants ran in their preferred shoes on an instrumented treadmill with 3-dimensional motion capture.
Main Outcome Measure(s):  Self-reported foot-strike patterns were compared with 2-dimensional video assessments. Runners were classified into 3 groups based on video assessment: traditional-shoe rear-foot strikers (TSR; n = 22), minimalist-shoe anterior-foot strikers (MSA; n = 21), and minimalist-shoe rear-foot strikers (MSR; n = 17). Ankle and knee negative angular work and average vertical-loading rates during stance phase were compared among groups.
Results:  Only 41 (68.3%) runners reported foot-strike patterns that agreed with the video assessment (κ = 0.42, P < .001). The TSR runners demonstrated greater ankle-dorsiflexion and knee-extension negative work than MSA and MSR runners (P < .05). The MSA (P < .001) and MSR (P = .01) runners demonstrated greater ankle plantar-flexion negative work than TSR runners. The MSR runners demonstrated a greater average vertical-loading rate than MSA and TSR runners (P < .001).
Conclusions:  Runners often cannot report their foot-strike patterns accurately and may not automatically adopt an anterior–foot-strike pattern after transitioning to minimalist running shoes.

…that pretty much found the same thing: Runners are poor at self identifying their foot strike pattern.

Nothing in the methods, analysis and results jumps out at me as being problematic. The study was on a treadmill which may be an issue for some, but studies comparing treadmill to overground running have not identified foot strike pattern as a parameter that changes.

I do have a bit of an issue of the authors insistence in their introduction and discussion about the risk of injury from impact loads when the evidence for that is far from compelling and one study even showed a reduced injury rates in those with higher impacts. Authors who want to continue to insist this need to address the lack of compelling evidence, rather than cherry pick and resort to the wishful thinking fallacy (ie just wishing that impact loads are a factor).

The study also confirms previous studies that transitioning to minimalist footwear does not automatically mean a more anterior foot strike pattern (here and here). The stock answer to this is that those transitioning to minimalist running shoes were not given the appropriate instruction on how to run “properly” (whatever that might be), but we also know from a recent study that gait instruction associated with a transition to minimalist running shoes is associated with a poorer running economy than just a transition without gait training!

As always, I go where the evidence takes me until convinced otherwise, and this again shows that runners are poor at identifying their foot strike pattern just as they are poor as self identifying their foot type.

Goss DL, Lewek M, Yu B, Ware WB, Teyhen DS, & Gross MT (2015). Lower Extremity Biomechanics and Self-Reported Foot-Strike Patterns Among Runners in Traditional and Minimalist Shoes. Journal of athletic training PMID: 25695854

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2 Responses to How poor are runners at self-identifying their foot strike pattern?

  1. Geoffrey Gray February 28, 2015 at 12:39 am #

    This is an awesome post–thanks for continuing to add to the knowledge base that runners (and all athletes for that matter…) are really poor at self assessment of their technique.

  2. BalkanRunner July 8, 2017 at 8:05 pm #

    At every group run / race I am observing how others run… they are really poor at self identifying their foot strike pattern…

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