Good Running Form: Foot Plant

runner-legs1One of the most important phases of running mechanics is the position of your foot when it lands on the ground. When you foot strikes the ground it will land either toes first, ball of the foot first, flat footed or heel first. Many runners make the mistake of reaching out in front of their body and landing heel first. The photo to the right shows a heel strike, a type of foot plant that can cause big troubles. 

That type of foot plant is inefficient and can be the cause of a long list of injuries. When you land on your heel,  your leg is straight and extended in front of your body. The combination of a straight leg and a hard heel landing transfers a lot of impact through your heel and up through your knee to your hip. The excessive stress a heel strike places on your joints can cause pain and injury to your hips, knee, ankle, foot and attitude. Shin splints (pain of the front of your lower legs) are an example of a common running injury that can be caused by heel striking and over striding.

A heel first foot plant also means you are over striding. You are reaching out in front of your body with each step you take. When you reach out in front of your body, you will land heel first and will be putting on the brakes with each step. It is like trying to drive your car while pressing on both the gas pedal and brake pedal at the same time. You are wasting energy and making your training run harder than it should be. Landing toes first is not an efficient style for distance running. Toe first landings result in a lot of up and down motion and puts a lot of stress on the calf muscles. Toe running is more appropriate for sprinting than for distance running.

 

runner-legs2As a distance runner, your most efficient foot plant is one in which your foot lands directly under your hips or your center of gravity. You may land on the ball of your foot or flat carl-lewis1footed. The ideal landing position is slightly toward the outside edge of your foot, just behind your little toe. Your foot would then naturally roll slightly inward while pushing off over your big toe. The slight inward roll of your foot is called pronation and provides some cushioning during the running stride. A small amount of pronation is normal and desirable. Takre a look at the photo to the right, and notice a smooth foot plant on this marathon runners stride. Also, you'll regognize the Olympic champion sprinter, Carl Lewis. Even his stride and foot plant is a very good example of the foot plant we all should strive for.

 

Excessive pronation can also be the cause of injury and stride inefficiencies. Excessive pronation might be be prevented through the use of motion control shoes (much controversey and discussion on this shoe topic). That type of shoe has strong heel inserts that stop the inside rolling motion of pronation. While motion control shoes will temporarily solve the problem, it is like putting a band aid on a cut that will never heal. It solves the immediate problem but it not a long term cure. Pronation can be caused by weak muscles in your lower leg or stride inefficiencies. Doing some barefoot walking and running will help strengthen the ankle and foot stabilizing muscles in your lower leg. Doing exercises and drills on an unstable surface such as a wobble board or stabilization pads can also help with this problem. If you pronate  severely I would suggest consulting with a physical therapist to find out of there are alternatives  to motion control shoes in your specific case.

 

BOISE RunWalk, Boise running, stride length and turnover. Marathon, Half Marathon, 10K.

 



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