Biomechanics of Foot Strikes
Applications to Running Barefoot or in Minimal Footwear

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Modern Running Shoes & Heel Striking

Some key features of the typical modern running shoe are:

Running Shoe - Cushioned Heel
  • Large, flared, cushioned heel:
    • Facilitates a comfortable and stable landing on the heel
    • Cushions some of the impact force caused by the foot’s collision with the ground
    • Distributes the impact force over a larger area of the rearfoot
Shoe Insert - Arch Support
  • Arch support and stiffening elements (e.g. medial post):
    • Many shoes prevent overpronation, which is the natural “rolling in” of the foot during stance (some shoes prevent oversupination or “rolling-out”)
    • Reduces the flattening of the foot's arch

Shod Runners Usually Heel Strike

Approximately 75% of shod runners heel strike (Hasegawa et al., 2007). While we do not know the definitive reasons why the majority of shod runners heel strike, we propose several potential explanations:

  1. It's comfortable. The shock-absorbing features cushion the force of impact. The graph below compares the forces that occur at the ground for a runner landing on the heel when barefoot (a) and in a running shoe (b). Note the initial impact transient, a nearly instantaneous and large increase in force that occurs as the heel comes to a sudden stop upon impacting the ground. The shoe reduces the force by about 10% and slows the rate of loading considerably. This, in addition to distributing the impact force over a larger area of the rearfoot, makes it comfortable to heel strike.
  2. Thicker rearfoot cushioning than forefoot cushioning. This high heel makes it easier to heel strike because the sole below the heel is typically about twice as thick as the sole below the forefoot. So if your foot would tend to land flat when barefoot, it will land on the heel when in a shoe.
    Barefoot Heel Strike Ground Reaction Force Shod Heel Strike Ground Reaction Force

  3. It's stable. The shoe is designed to prevent too much movement such as pronation. This helps to make runners feel stable in modern shoes.

Is There Anything Wrong With Heel Striking in Running Shoes?

Not necessarily! Many people like to run this way and do so without injury. But some runners get repetitive stress injuries each year (estimates vary from 30-75%) and one hypothesis is that heel striking contributes to some of these injuries. We emphasize though, that no study has shown that heel striking contributes more to injury than forefoot striking. Read on to learn more about forefoot striking.

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Creative Commons License

Running Barefoot or in Minimal Footwear by Daniel Lieberman et al. is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.
Based on the research published in the scientific journal Nature.
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available by contacting Daniel Lieberman.