Should I Stop Heel Striking when Running?

Jun 18, 2022

Photo Credit: Run 4 FFWPU

Increased Injury Risk?

Have you heard that heel-striking may lead to increases in injury risk and decreases in running performance? While there are biomechanical differences in different striking patterns, abruptly switching from one to another is where the real issues may occur.


There are studies that show that heel-striking may have a higher incidence in injuries compared to forefoot or midfoot striking. However, there is also strong evidence of increases of injury occurrence when switching from a heel-striking pattern to another striking pattern.


Our bodies are very adaptable, but we must give them the time they need to adapt. Forefoot striking requires a much greater load to be handled by the calf complex compared to heel-striking. Abruptly switching from a heel-strike to a forefoot strike will put loads on our calf complex that our body may not yet be prepared for, and this has actually been shown to lead to increases in injuries such as Achilles tendinopathy and shin splints.

Switching Striking Pattern

One way to combat this would be to greatly reduce mileage when we switch our striking pattern. From there, we would need to progress our mileage at an appropriate rate to give our body the time it needs to adapt to handle these biomechanical differences in load.


While this strategy may be effective in adapting a new striking pattern, it may not be necessary. Runners who naturally have a forefoot strike have been shown to hold no competitive advantage over natural heel-strikers at slow, moderate, or fast running speeds. Furthermore, for a lot of athletes, heel-striking may actually be the more efficient striking pattern for longer distance runs.



Better advice would be for a runner to increase their cadence, or tempo. A runner’s cadence is how many times their feet strike the ground in one minute.  When we increase our cadence, we are putting less load on each step in our gait cycle. For runners who are experiencing injuries due to a repetitive high load, cadence is a great first place to look as to a potential cause.


This raises the question “Well, what cadence should I be running at?” Research suggests most runners should strive for a cadence between 165-180, with a lot of studies showing that being closer to 180 may be more ideal. A lot of apps and smartwatches have the capabilities to track your cadence quite easily nowadays. However, the “ideal” cadence will vary for each individual depending on many factors. Typically, a taller runner will naturally run with a lesser cadence compared to a shorter runner.


Inclination Angle

Lastly, an increase in cadence in heel-strikers has been shown to lead to less of an inclination angle. An inclination angle is the angle of dorsiflexion your foot has the moment it touches the ground. You can almost imagine it as the severity of a heel-strike: a greater inclination angle is a more severe heel-strike. A greater inclination angle will lead to higher braking forces through your heel. Ideally, a lesser inclination angle would allow your body to disperse the ground contact forces more appropriately.



When it comes to running economy, there are no significant differences between heel-striking and forefoot striking. In terms of injury, while heel-striking may be associated with more injuries, the root cause of these injuries may be due to a larger inclination angle or a decrease in cadence rather than the difference in biomechanics of a foot strike.

Written in collaboration with Dr. Carmen Scuito, PT, DPT, CSCS

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