Last weekend, I had an incredible time in Portland, Oregon and learned a lot at the RunLab Clinical Gait Specialist class. I have every intention of blogging about the takeaways from the class but it left me with the topic of foot striking lingering in my head most. When I began graduate school, the minimalist running shoe trend was hot-to-trot after many distance runners read the book, Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen, written by Christopher McDougall in 2009. The book brought on a fanfare of minimalist shoe advocates, as well as the feverishly debated topic of whether minimalist footwear would decrease the incidence of injury and enhance performance due to the promotion of a mid-foot strike or forefoot strike compared to rearfoot strike.
The minimalist running shoe trend is not nearly as popular as what it was 2009-2014, but then came the maximalist shoe. I have seen a lot of research on minimalist shoes, but not a lot on maximalist shoes. I asked Dr. Kimberly Davis, founder of RunLab Austin what the evidence-based research supports about the maximalist shoe and she basically said research results regarding any type of shoe are the same. What exactly is that?
Despite the technological efforts of the multi-billion dollar running shoe industry, injury rates have remained constant over the last 30 years (Rixe et al.,2012). Technology meaning all shoe types; traditional, minimalist, and maximalist have the same injury rates, but with different common injury locations in the body. Okay, so injury rates are the same regardless of what type of shoe you are in. What about foot striking patterns? I know I frequently have runners tell me that they have a rearfoot strike and want to “fix” it because “everyone” says its bad. Is it true that the world’s best runners are forefoot strikers?
In a 2013 video analysis of 903 Danish runners, Bertelsen and colleagues observed 97% of male and 99% of female runners displayed a rearfoot strike. No wonder many runners tell me they have a rearfoot strike, because most do! At the 2009 Manchester City Marathon, researchers captured the foot strike pattern of 289 recreational marathon runners, observing a rearfoot strike in 88% of the runners and increasing to 93% by the 32k, suggesting with fatigue, mechanics can change (Larson et al., 2011). It is not just the recreational crowd that has a prevalence for rearfoot striking. Video analysis research conducted at the 2004 Sapporo Half-Marathon, observed 75% of 283 elite level runners displayed a rearfoot strike.
Guess what folks? It is not necessarily bad to rearfoot strike and it is not necessarily good to mid-foot or forefoot strike either. Shoes aren’t what help you stay injury free or perform better, your mechanics do, because it is your mechanics that will ultimately decide what your body does when you are in flight during the swing phase, the deceleration towards the ground, and when you are in ground contact. No matter what type of shoe you are in, there is one thing that is certain, each foot will contact the ground and distribute forces through the segments of your body. Do not think that a cushioned shoe will minimize what happens to your body if you have poor mechanics. There are no buffers or shocks that you can purchase for your body. But you do have buffers and shocks naturally in your body. They are called the arch of your foot, muscles, tendons, ligaments, and joints. Suzy Q’s Hoka’s aren’t necessarily better than Jane Doe’s Altra’s if their mechanics are bad. By the way, I am talking ground up mechanics with and without shoes, all segments of the body.
According to Dr. Davis, runners should have multiple types of shoes in their “toolbox”. Don’t marry one type of shoe because first off all, if your mechanics are good, it doesn’t matter what type of shoe you are in. Secondly, some shoes are better suited for speed and some for distance. Just like some non-running shoes are better for strolling around Disneyland and some are better for looking cute at happy hour.
I look forward to sharing more about the RunLab Clinical Gait Specialist class once I have the time to jot it all down and I should probably wait until I am certified to fix all my readers mechanics. Everyone wants to avoid injury and many want to be faster, more efficient runners, right? Soon I will have all the tools in my toolbox to help many more runners. By the way, if you are reading this blog on the internet, please like and follow the Run With Gina page on Facebook!
Bertelsen, M. L., Jensen, J. F., Nielsen, M. H., Nielsen, R. O., & Rasmussen, S. (2013). Foot strike patterns among novice runners wearing a conventional, neutral running shoe. Gait & Posture, 38, 354-356.
Hasegawa, H., Yamauchi, T., & Kraemer, W. J. (2007). Foot strike patterns of runners at the 15-km point during an elite-level half marathon. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 21(3), 888-893.
Larson, P., Higgins, E., Kaminski, J., Decker, T., Preble, J., Lyons, D.,..., & Normile, A. (2011). Foot strike patterns of recreational and sub-elite runners in a long-distance road race. Journal of Sports Sciences, 29(15), 1665–1673.