For years, the most efficient way for a runner’s foot to strike the ground has bitterly divided the running community. There are the barefoot advocates who think squarely on the forefoot is the only way to land, the cushion apologists whose shoes force a heel-toe motion, and the followers of shoes like Newtons, whose design promotes a midfoot strike.
A new study may take the wind out of all of these arguments. Researchers compared 10 sub-elite runners with varying styles and found that strike styles didn’t make much of a difference in terms of contact and flight times, step length and rate, anaerobic threshold, or VO2 max. The only significant difference was that the heel strikers were 5.4 and 9.3 percent more economical at around seven and eight miles per hour (that’s 8:30 to 7:30 minutes per mile), which were slow paces for these runners. Once they sped up, the disparity disappeared. “What we’re seeing here is that there’s really no right way to run,” says Eric Rohr, biomechanical engineer and senior manager of Brooks Sports’ human performance lab. Instead of obsessing over foot strike, Rohr says that runners should allow themselves to follow their natural style.
Brooks labs – and other companies like Asics and Nikes – are doing extensive research on individual running styles, giving credence to the idea that everyone should run differently because our bone shapes and muscle strengths vary. In order to take advantage of personal running styles, Rohr says that runners of all levels should concentrate on increasing mileage and speed, strength training, and cardio building.
So what about all of the barefoot advocates who use shoeless (and minimal shoe) running to convert to forefoot striking? Rohr says that such forced changes could cause unnecessary injury – especially if you’re currently not experiencing pain. Ana Ogueta-Alday, sports researcher at the University of Leon and author of this study, agrees: “If I don’t have any injuries and if I am comfortable at that foot strike pattern, I would continue with that,” she says.