Yet another study shows heel striking is more efficient than midfoot striking

The running economy studies on rearfoot vs midfoot/forefoot and barefoot/minimalism vs shoes have been coming thick and fast this year and they pretty much all showing the same thing. I should not need to relitigate the issues I have bloged about here, here, here, here, here and here! So straight to it: This one was just published:

Rearfoot Striking Runners Are More Economical than Midfoot Strikers
Ogueta-Alday, Ana; Rodríguez-Marroyo, José Antonio; García-López, Juan
Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise: 30 August 2013
Purpose: To analyze the influence of foot strike pattern on running economy and biomechanical characteristics in sub-elite runners with a similar performance level.
Methods: Twenty sub-elite long-distance runners participated and were divided into two groups according to their foot strike pattern: rearfoot (RF, n= 10) and midfoot strikers (MF, n= 10). Anthropometric characteristics were measured (height, body mass, BMI, skinfolds, circumferences and lengths); physiological (V[spacing dot above]O2max, anaerobic threshold and running economy) and biomechanical characteristics (contact and flight times, step rate and step length) were registered during both incremental and submaximal tests on a treadmill.
Results: There were no significant intergroup differences in anthropometrics, V[spacing dot above]O2max or anaerobic threshold measures. RF strikers were 5.4, 9.3 and 5.0% more economical than MF at submaximal speeds (11, 13 and 15 km[middle dot]h-1 respectively, though the difference was not significant at 15 km[middle dot]h-1, p=0.07). Step rate and step length were not different between groups, but RF showed longer contact time (p<0.01) and shorter flight time (p<0.01) than MF at all running speeds.
Conclusions: The present study showed that habitually rearfoot striking runners are more economical than midfoot strikers. Foot strike pattern affected both contact and flight times, which may explain the differences in running economy.

The results are consistent with other similar recent studies such at the Gruber et al study and the Michele and Merni study. It is also consistent with the previous one that showed that Pose running (midfoot striking) was less efficient than heel striking that got the fan boys upset! (see the comments on the Pose study).

Why did they find the results they did: I presume that to get up onto the midfoot, requires more muscular effort, so its less efficient. They found no difference at the faster velocity (15km/hr) and my best guess is that the heel strikers were starting to get towards being on the midfoot to run that fast; ie more muscular effort (?), so a loss of efficiency (?).

As always, I go where the evidence takes me until convinced otherwise, and the evidence is pointing me in one direction when it comes to running economy and the various foot strike patterns or footwear conditions.

Ogueta-Alday, Ana; Rodríguez-Marroyo, José Antonio; García-López, Juan (2013). Rearfoot Striking Runners Are More Economical than Midfoot Strikers Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise DOI: 10.1249/MSS.0000000000000139

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32 Responses to Yet another study shows heel striking is more efficient than midfoot striking

  1. Yura September 4, 2013 at 3:39 am #

    Hello.
    After reading the post, I had to wonder, “do you run at all?” (I’m not an old reader of yours, sorry.)

    The study applies only to slow runners, where it may be harder to land on the front part of the foot. The faster you run, the easier it is for you to land fmf.

    Also, it’s questionable that longer land contact and less flight time is actually economical or faster. At worst, it may require a bit more energy, but give you much more speed otherwise.

    In Pose, you have to increase cadence, as well, which requires more energy, which is saved in other places (like spending less on pushing yourself forward).

    Though, I have to read all the other studies on the topic, thanks for the links.

    • Craig Payne September 4, 2013 at 3:43 am #

      Yes I do run (and midfoot strike and do ~50% in minimalist shoes; I just do not feel compelled to evangelise and preach that what works for me should we “the way” for everyone.). All the other studies are showing the same thing. Pose running has been shown to be less efficient. I go with what the scientific evidence says rather than the propaganda and rhetoric from the fan boys, which is exactly why we need to rely on the science rather than wishful thinking.

    • Mark Richard January 17, 2014 at 5:18 pm #

      I thought you were a heel striker Craig?

      • Admin January 17, 2014 at 8:13 pm #

        I tend to midfoot, even forefoot strike sometimes… but heel strike when fatigued.

        • Mark Richard January 18, 2014 at 10:28 am #

          Makes sense…fatigued = less speed less force,shorter stride (hopefully). As long as posture is sound heel striking is appropriate.

        • Mark Richard January 31, 2014 at 7:54 pm #

          Midfoot is a coaching cue as I’m sure you know.
          Coaching cues are useful but not scientific fact.
          If coaches cue foot contact then I suggest they find a new job.

  2. dingle September 4, 2013 at 2:14 pm #

    You state and title your article ‘heel striking is more efficient’ but that’s not the whole story is it as at higher speeds they equalised. Cherry picking for headlines?

    A few questions-
    – If h/s is more efficient then why do more elites not do it to improve times?
    – Why do you keep focusing on footstrike (your articles seem to lean heavily in that direction)? There is more to running than where initial contact is made. What about the actual landing?
    -Why do you degenerate others with the ‘fanboy’ referance? I believe there is much to learn from other opinions, research and theory. I wouldn’t call all pods useless just because the majority I have come across were.

    • Craig Payne September 4, 2013 at 2:21 pm #

      1. How is it cherry picking? Its exactly what the study found! (and all the other ones as well!). Even the title of the publication in the journal was that (and its not my research study).

      2. As for elites, its a trade off between lever arms to increase speed and muscular effort (been around that trap many a time in other posts)

      3. The reference to the ‘fan boy’ is aimed towards those that are so blinded by their cult like adherence to their ‘religion’ that no amount of scientific evidence will shift them (the Pose fan boys are the worse – when the science does not go their way, they just dismiss the concept of “science”). It is exactly because of this that we need to rely on the science and not the rhetoric and propaganda from the ‘cults’.

  3. dingle September 4, 2013 at 3:02 pm #

    It could easily be titled ´no difference in efficiency between footstrikes’ couldn’t it.

    – What do you mean by running up on the midfoot, how can you run on the midfoot when the middle of the foot is an arch.

    -And again … Why do you keep focusing on footstrike (your articles seem to lean heavily in that direction)? There is more to running than where initial contact is made. What about the actual landing and positioning of the foot.

    I find it odd that a professional such as yourself resorts to pigeon holing and name calling.
    Indeed if science had all the answers then there wouldn’t be a debate.
    Reading larson, magness, romanov etc they all seem to be converging on the same spot albeit from different directions.

    • Craig Payne September 4, 2013 at 6:54 pm #

      I titled it what the study found. If I had said “No difference”, then I would be lieing as that is not what that and all the other recent studies are showing. Are you also complaining to the publsihers of Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise for using the title “Rearfoot Striking Runners Are More Economical than Midfoot Strikers“? At least I don’t lie in my titles like these barefoot running websites: http://www.runresearchjunkie.com/the-running-shoes-causing-knee-osteoarthritis-debacle/ are you complaining to them about their headlines as well?

      If I appear to be focusing on footstrike, then that is what all the research being published is on. I blog about any new research that is published as its published. What studies have I missed that I should be mentioning and talking about? I do my best to not miss any. Do you have some I missed – happy to add them and comment on them. What is in the research is NOT mine – its what researchers are doing and publishing. I do not create that research (except when I have occasionally discussed my own research).

      “What do you mean by running up on the midfoot” – semantics – everyone else seem to know what a midfoot strike is!

      “What about the actual landing and positioning of the foot.” – not sure what that has to do with it. The study was not about that.

      “pigeon holing and name calling” – I only do that to those that espouse pseduoscience, voodoo and woo and lie about the science; and those who tout the ‘one size fits all’ nonsense; and those who rely on rhetoric and propaganda; and those who use all the logical fallacies; etc – they deserve it and open themselves to ridicule.

      “Reading larson, magness, romanov etc” – not sure what they have to do with it either. I just checked and none of them have talked about this study. Having said that I do not see where my views differ much from Larsen and Magness in general anyway!; they differ from romonov as he is promoting the one size fits all nonsense, which is something I notice Peter Larsen lately has been getting very vocal against.

      I get the sense that you are not happy that the evidence, science and research is not supporting what you want to believe in.

  4. Michigan Biomech September 4, 2013 at 9:31 pm #

    Fan boys! Funny, I have not heard that in a while. It may not be the most political correct description. It does aptly reflect the fanaticism we see. I do agree that the “fan boys” are getting grumpier and lashing out recently with irrational comments. The barefoot, minimalism and forefoot striking fad has failed to deliver on the promises that were made for it. The biomechanical, running economy and injury rate research are showing its not the panacea that was claimed.

    • Mark Richard January 18, 2014 at 10:32 am #

      Strawman

  5. Steve C September 5, 2013 at 4:50 pm #

    Heel strike or midfoot, heel stroke or forefoot, midfoot or forefoot. It doesn’t matter provided the runner lands with the foot under his/her center of gravity. The issue with heel striking being inefficient was only when the foot/heel was ahead of the center of gravity, causing excess force and the braking effect. With the foot/heel under the center of gravity, there is no braking effect with heel strike.
    In addition, a mid or forefoot strike will have a similar braking effect if the strike is ahead of the center of gravity!
    When a runner learns to run properly, learn to keep the strike under the center of gravity….and be done with it 🙂

    • Daniel Connelly September 29, 2016 at 10:28 pm #

      Sorry commenting on a 3-year-old comment, but it’s physically impossible to land with the foot under the center of gravity, because on average while the foot is on the ground, at steady pace, the center of gravity must be above the foot (neglecting wind resistance): that’s simple balance of forces, Newton’s Laws, so when the foot lands it must be ahead of the center of gravity to balance the time it is behind the center of gravity. All forces (and torques) must average to zero, or there will be acceleration, and at steady pace there is not.

      As to this case, when walking clearly a heel strike is more efficient, so it stands to reason that it would also be more efficient when running slowly. Impact forces become a greater issue the faster the run, and those are the motivation for the arguments about foot strike.

  6. Kevin A. Kirby, DPM September 5, 2013 at 5:09 pm #

    There is a reason that every single scientific study which has measured the footstrike patterns of runners has very clearly shown that runners prefer to heel-strike: because, for the vast majority of runners, heel-striking running is the most metabolically efficient form of running at endurance running velocities.

    Humans and other animals will tend to choose the kinematic patterns which consume the least amount of metabolic energy for a given locomotor task. This is likely due to the ability of the central nervous systems of animals to sense metabolic consumption rates, strains on tendons, fatigue in muscles, and joint positions in order to optimize energy consumption and reduce the discomfort of a specific physical activity, which is an essential function of the animal’s central nervous system to prolong their lives and preserve their species.

    With this in mind, it baffles me why certain self-proclaimed “experts” of “running form” are still trying to take runners, who are naturally heel-striking runners, and make them into forefoot or midfoot-striking runners at endurance running velocities. There is no research that indicates that heel-striking running is harmful and, as Craig so nicely points out here and in the other research to date on the subject, there is plenty of research now that shows that heel-striking running is more metabolically efficient for the vast majority of runners than is midfoot or forefoot- striking running at endurance running velocities.

    This doesn’t mean that some runners may not benefit from being coached to improve their running form, such as the instruction to many beginning runners to not overstride. However, to suggest that there is one best “running form” for all individuals (e.g. Chi Running, Pose Running) is naïve, contrary to the available scientific evidence to date and does not take into account the wide variability of the structure and function of the locomotor apparatus from one individual to another.

    Certainly, a more common sense approach is in order now after having to endure years of mis-information from the “Born to Run”, barefoot running and minimalist shoe disciples that seem to lack the ability to critically analyze the available research and make reasonable recommendations to the lay-runner who is seeking to improve their running performance and decrease their chance of running injury. The running public deserves better.

    Sincerely,

    Kevin

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    Adjunct Associate Professor
    Department of Applied Biomechanics
    California School of Podiatric Medicine

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  7. Admin September 6, 2013 at 11:11 pm #

    A fan boy* (or fan boi) is a slang term for someone who is considered very devoted to a single subject, often to the point where it might be considered an obsession. It is a term reserved for when the obsession or passion is beyond what just being a typical fan might be considered as being.

    Traditionally they were a passionate fan of something in geek culture such as a sci-fi genre, comics or specific video games, but more recently it has been expanded to include non-geek niches. It is also considered to be a type of insult or put down and is somewhat derogatory.

    Fan boys* typically go into an outburst or start insulting people with Ad hominem attacks when what they like or are passionate about is questioned; they often resort to many of the logical fallacies to defend their topic, especially in the context of being confronted with scientific evidence of a problem with the topic. They are also well known for a lack of objectivity in relation to the topic or niche. They tune out to facts and other opinions. Usually arguments or debates with them are futile and non-productive because of this lack of objectivity and critical thinking skills.

  8. Peter Larson September 12, 2013 at 12:11 pm #

    I skimmed this study a few weeks ago, need to read it more carefully. But, given that these runners were all quite proficient, way beyond recreational level for sure, I’d be curious to see the loading pattern for the heel strikers. Given the recent research showing that a sizable fraction of visually asessed heel strikers load mostly under the midfoot, I’d love to know what the heel strikers here are doing. My guess is they are not heel mashing overstriders like many mid pack runners if they are running 1:15 half marathons. Then there’s the point that even though economy differed, performance did not. That’s really what matters when it comes to winning a race!

    I have to admit being a bit skeptical of the magnitude of economy differences observed – as much as 9% different seems fishy to me. If 3oz added to the foot decreases economy by about 1%, that would be like strapping 1.75 pound weights to your feet.

    • Kevin A. Kirby, DPM September 12, 2013 at 4:17 pm #

      Pete:

      Good to see you contributing here.

      As you know, heel strikers are generally defined as being those runners who initially contact the ground during running with the proximal 1/3rd of the shoe sole. Midfoot strikers are defined as those runners who initially contact the ground during running with the middle 1/3rd of their shoe sole.

      Over the past few years, the barefoot and minimalist shoe advocates, Chi Running and POSE running advocates have all claimed that heel-striking runners had “poor form”, when in fact according to your own study, out of 936 runners, 88.9% of runners chose to be rearfoot-striking runners.

      Don’t you believe that for recreational runners the reason they self-select to rearfoot-strike is because it is more metabolically efficient to do so? If not, why do you believe that the vast majority of runners in all the studies done on footstrike pattern during races, clearly shows that rearfoot-striking is, by far, the predominant style of footstrike pattern that is chosen by runners? Do you believe, like many barefoot, minimalist, Chi and Pose advocates that the vast majority of runners have “poor form” just because they strike the ground with the proximal 1/3rd of their shoe sole?

      Cheers,

      Kevin

      I am interested in your thoughts.

      • Peter Larson September 13, 2013 at 4:18 pm #

        Kevin,

        I’m well aware that most runners are heel strikers, at least when assessed visually. I wasn’t disputing that. I also don’t believe that heel striking = poor form.

        The point is that the category of “heel strike” encompasses variation in kinematic and kinetic properties. I wrote about a recent abstract where they showed loading patterns varied considerably among runners considered to be heel strikers: http://www.runblogger.com/2013/08/i-think-im-pseudo-heel-striker-study.html. I’m just curious about the heel strikers here since they are all presumably rather efficient runners considering the mean half marathon times of the study groups.

        I believe metabolic efficiency is one factor that determines why someone heel strikes. I also believe that footwear and surface underfoot plays a role, given studies (and my own video footage from a barefoot race) that show barefoot runners tend to not heel strike or exhibit a less dorsiflexed foot when running on a hard surface. Speed also plays a role. I doubt it’s one single factor.

        Pete

  9. dingle September 12, 2013 at 4:37 pm #

    How dare you question the evidence Mr Larson? [sarcasm mode off]

    Another point is that the study is on a treadmill. If the science is to be exact then does this study really apply to running on a track/road etc?

    And I really don’t see how you can midfoot strike as you say pose runners do. The middle of the foot is an arch. Let alone being able to run UP on the midfoot.

    • Michigan Biomech September 12, 2013 at 9:46 pm #

      I don’t see what the issue is. The results of the study are consistent with all the others. Its becoming clear that when the weight of the shoes are the same, heel striking is more economical than forefoot striking. This makes sense as the muscles have to work harder to midfoot or forefoot strike than when heel striking.

      When it comes to comparing the usual bulky shoes to the less bulky minimalist shoes or barefoot, most of the studies are showing no differences in economy. This also make sense as the increased muscle effort in the lighter shoes is offset by the weight of the shoe when it come to economy.

      • Craig Payne September 12, 2013 at 9:49 pm #

        …with the proviso that there is substantial inter-subject variability (I got an article coming soon on the putative reasons for that)

    • Craig Payne September 12, 2013 at 9:48 pm #

      Semantics and pedantics re “midfoot” strike. Everyone seems to know what it means except you.

      The results of the pose study where not rocket science, however you want to define the foot strike pattern. The subjects wore the same shoes of the same weight. Transitioning to the pose technique to get away from a heel strike requires the muscles to work harder –> less economical. Its that simple.

  10. dingle September 13, 2013 at 8:49 pm #

    Semantics or pedantic is not an answer. How do you run UP on the mid foot?

    • Craig Payne September 13, 2013 at 10:00 pm #

      Cherry picking on minuscule trivial points to make a point is not an answer either. Everyone else seem to know what it means and what I meant by it. the way I phrased it was probably not the most appropriate.

  11. dingle September 14, 2013 at 2:50 am #

    Why does a ‘trivial´ question cause you such an issue? Being as the study uses the term mid foot as do you I don’t see why you can’t define it. Perhaps the full paper can help?

  12. Samuel Buchanan October 29, 2013 at 9:26 am #

    Effects of Footwear and Strike Type on
    Running Economy

    http://www.fas.harvard.edu/~skeleton/pdfs/2012a.pdf

    Too tired looking for lit review ideas to put in my two cents, but I hope you enjoy the study. Good luck on your quest to unearth the best running form.

    • Craig Payne October 29, 2013 at 6:05 pm #

      The majority of studies are showing the opposite of that one (and there is also a few more recent ones that I have not posted about – will within a few days)

  13. Kevin A. Kirby, DPM November 7, 2013 at 5:02 pm #

    I am just happy that this idea that “rearfoot striking is bad and causes injuries” and that “midfoot striking or forefoot striking is good and prevents injuries”, which so many people promoted on the internet and in their “running form” classes, is finally starting to be shown to be, simply, a bunch of BS. Not that I am complaining about all the injured runners that have come to me for treatment in my office because they were told by some “expert” that “”rearfoot striking is bad and causes injuries” and became injured as a result of the advice from these “experts”. It is more that I just feel sorry for these runners getting injuries that they never would have developed if they had just kept doing what they had before.

    Maybe, someday, runners will be taught that running form is highly individual and that, given time, each individual’s central nervous system is much better at determining their optimum running form than any “expert” can. That would be a refreshing new concept…of course, no one could make a living out of teaching “running form classes” if this idea caught on. 😉

    • Mark Richard January 17, 2014 at 5:32 pm #

      If 19% to 79% of runners are injured each year I’m sure you have had plenty of runners to treat over the years

  14. Ivan Rivera May 16, 2015 at 7:38 pm #

    Kevin,

    I’m a running coach. Although I don’t coach footstrike (because it usually wreaks havoc on people’s upper body kinematics, not to mention their shin muscles, I do think that there’s an argument to be made for the idea that there’s SOME form that is better for most people.

    For example, people that don’t know how to punch often injure their hand on account of striking with their fourth and fifth metacarpals, instead of their first and second metacarpals. This usually happens because of inexperience in reciprocally extending the arm and adducting the shoulder on the transverse plane (or a lack of mobility, or sensation, or all of the above). Effectively, their nervous system is telling them that’s the best way to punch. Are people’s nervous systems always correct about the best way to interact with the world? I don’t think so.

    The big (initial) problem for me is that most running coaches who like forefoot striking think that the problem is in the foot, instead of somewhere else up the kinetic chain (if it exists at all). In any case, we do see across sports that very minute and very specific variables (such as the metacarpal example) are held constant as the “correct” way to do things. In other words, there’s really no “individual” way to punch.

    I’m not claiming that we already have the answer in running. However I find it rather unlikely that there’s no feature of form generalizable across all runners that indicates proper kinetics and kinematics, when we find that to be the case for most sports (consider studies on cricket such as the study below).

    http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/14763140508522849

    On another note, I find it a little odd that minimalists and barefooters have moved the discussion towards efficiency. Across sports, greater performance is usually understood as (and achieved by) generating greater power output. This holds even in the marathon, as was discussed by Owen Anderson in “Running Science.” Furthermore, (again, I’m appealing to studies cited in that book) it seems that the best predictor of ULTRAMARATHON performance is maximal treadmill speed.

    It doesn’t seem to be the case that efficiency (or the lack thereof) is a good way to judge the “quality” or “correctness” of form in any athletic endeavor.

  15. Ivan Rivera May 16, 2015 at 7:50 pm #

    Wow. I just realized that I wrote “first and second metacarpals.” I meant “second and third.” Apologies.

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