In the last 5 to ten years, a movement has been made toward changing the gait of runners to have them land not on their heel, but rather on the fore- or mid-foot. This trend has gained a lot of followers, lining up behind minimalist shoe company marketing, spouting off about how our ancestors ran, and even buying those creepy-looking foot gloves; but is it actually easier on the body, and more efficient?
Studies comparing heel- to forefoot-strikers running at a pace slower than 6:25 minute/mile pace have shown that heel-strikers are more efficient. Faster than that pace, and the efficiency becomes equal between the two groups.
As for the forces absorbed by the body, additional studies have shown that they are equal between the groups, but that the forces are absorbed by different joints. Heel-strikers absorb the forces in the knees, and forefoot-strikers absorb them in the arches of the foot and Achilles tendons. Pick your poison!
The simplest way to reduce the forces your body is absorbing is to reduce your stride length. By doing this, and increasing your stride cadence (steps per minute) you can maintain the same speed while limiting the forces applied to your body through each step. You may even avoid stress fractures while running in your bare feet or glove-shoes. I personally do not recommend any one foot-striking pattern beyond, “do what feels best for you.” Well, that and “ride a bike!”
Like many arguments about what diet/form/shoe/gear/etc. is “best”, it all comes down not to what is popular or which celebrity spokesperson has had success with which method, but rather what works for you. Everyone is an individual with different preferences, genetics, goals, and injury histories. In my practice I treat everyone as such, and try to steer people away from adhering too vehemently to any one trend or practice. Together we work to find the right regimen that creates a balance between the goals of the patient, and their health.
For more information on running gait, injuries, please email Dr. Stoughton of Evergreen Spine & Sports Medicine at: firstname.lastname@example.org