heel striking & knee problems - my thoughts

this was borne out from a few threads i've been contributing to, and thought it deserved a thread of its ownimage


firstly, what is heel striking?

heel striking is when your heel is the first part of your foot that hits the floor on taking a step.

why i believe heel striking is the worst thing possible for the knees.....

when i heel struck, my foot would contact the floor at least 18" in front of my body. this meant that my leg was virtually straight. this would mean that the angle of my leg was about 15-20 deg from vertical. my foot would be about 90 deg to the leg. because the leg was quite straight, the knee was close to being locked out. when my heel hit the floor the force was instantly transmitted up the shin, through the knee and into the hip. i know. i felt it! as the body rotates over the nearly locked out leg, it is propelled upwards, putting yet more stress on the ankle, knee and hip joints. all these forces do not make for comfort if you suffer from joint problems.

why heel striking acts as a brake......

simple one this. imagine you are walking along and trip over. you've got horizontal and vertical motion to arrest, so where do you put your hands? they obviously go out, but they go out in front of you. they go in front so that you slow your forward motion. if you just put them perpendicular to the floor, you'd stop the vertical motion, but you'd still have forward motion and face plant. if you put them behind you, you'd face plant faster as the forces would accelerate the horizontal motion. every step you take, your feet are doing exactly the same thing. they are stopping the vertical motion and slowing the forward motion.


  • the 'answer'?

    not to heel strike! try forefoot or midfoot landing. with forefoot, you land on the balls of the feet, briefly rolling to the heel. midfoot, you land literally with a flat foot.

    both of these require a much shorter stride, whereby your foot is landing pretty much under your hips. i found that if the stride was too long, whilst forefoot running, un-necessary strain was placed on the calves and achilles. to get a short stride, a cadence of around 180 steps per minute is needed. i found that when adopting this cadence, it was difficult to overstride.

    if you are a heel striker and you want to transition to fore/mid foot your calves will probably complain like crazy to begin with, so the distances need to be kept very short and gradually built up.


    i'm no expert in this, being a very new runner, however what i've written above is my experience of how i needed to run, in minimalist shoes, and not get the pain in my knees that i got before adopting this technique. i'm sure the same can be applied to cushioned running shoes, but have never tried these as i much prefer the near 100% feedback offered by minimalists.

  • RicFRicF ✭✭✭


  • So, with forefoot running, you land on forefoot and roll to the heel? I assumed the idea was you just ran on forefeet. Surely rolling forefoot to heel is backwards motion? I find this all very confusing. I suppose I should just try it (having now got a pair of minimalist shoes) but I struggle enough to find time to go for runs of a decent length. Finding extra days to do shorter runs t build up forefoot running is going to be hard. Can you build it Jo by just doing 1 run a week? Are there other advantages apart from the knees?
  • hi shona,

    you don't have to consciously roll to the heel, it just kinda happens, or not. it's all about the initial point of impact being something other than the boney heel of the foot.

    if you do run in the minimalists, then you'll probably find that you have no choice than not to heel strike as heel striking in thin soled shoes is too uncomfortable.

    if you heel strike now and want to move to fore / mid foot then the calves will be doing something new and different parts of the calf muscle come into play. they need to be broken in gently and warmed up before running, as does the achilles. with heel striking, the force acts pretty much directly on the bones & joints. with fore / mid foot, the muscles and tendons are acting as the shock absorbers. this is something they've not been used to doing. there are good resources on the merrel and vibram sites for transitioning to minimal shoes / fore foot. to start with, it's recommended to not try running any further than 1/4 mile and to gradually build up the distances and to add in lots of other stuff to help your feet with the transition.

    i was the classic too far, too soon and kept pinging the calves (october last year). it only put my out for 7 then 4 then 3 days on the 3 occassions when they cried "enough!", however i'm now running 5 miles comfortably (on tarmac) with training runs of 3 miles and dreadmill recovery runs of 1 mile.

    iirc, i was recommended 1 long and 1 short run per week to start with, interspersed with calf raise strengthening excercises. given you're starting at 1/4 mile max, the short run becomes very short!


    as before, i'm no expert in this and the above is based on my experience of running forefoot in minimalist daps.


    let us know how you get on with the minimalist shoes. if you're anything like me, they'll feel well weird to start with, but you soon love them as the feel & feedback you get through the feet is awesome! wearing cushioned shoes then becomes well strange as all the feedback you were getting suddenly gets muted.

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