How should my foot land when trail running?
Hey trail runners! Are you ready to get out on the trails this season? Do you want to learn more about how your foot should land while trail running? Well, you're in luck because these are things we think about all the time. We want to help you kick your season off strong and keep you out of pain through all the seasons.
Let's start with the basics.
Your foot has three main points of contact: 1) the heel, 2) the ball of the big toe, and 3) the ball of the pinkie toe.
When your foot hits the ground, it acts as the first support for your body, and the ground hits you back! How your foot lands, affects the amount of force that's absorbed, and how that force is transmitted through your body. Managing these forces prevents you from getting injured, but it's also how you progressively build up to produce and receive larger forces.
Now, we hear runners often asking about how their foot lands, and what they "should" be doing.
Foot strike is a common question, so here's what we tell them.
There are three main types of foot strike: 1) heel strike, 2) midfoot strike, and 3) forefoot strike. Heel strike is when your heel hits the ground first, followed by the ball of your foot and your toes. Midfoot strike is when your heel and the ball of your foot hit the ground simultaneously. Forefoot strike is when the ball of your foot and your toes hit the ground first, followed by your heel.
Now, here's the important part:
Research suggests that midfoot and forefoot strike patterns are better for injury prevention than heel striking. Research also suggests that rearfoot strike patterns aren't at a higher risk of injury.
Check out this paper from 2019 reporting that transitioning from a rearfoot strike may reduce kinetic risk factors for running-related injuries.
Yet in 2022 we have a paper saying that rearfoot strike runners did not have a higher risk of running-related injury.
While we have research to support both sides, it turns out we aren't exactly sure.
This means that each runner has their own rules to follow, and it has way more influencing factors besides just where on your foot you land.
Landing in the midfoot or forefoot may allow us to absorb load over time during foot strike, but heel striking may tolerate higher impact forces. Like we see in many cases, it's the management of forces that makes the difference of stronger, healthy running versus injuries like plantar fasciitis, shin splints, and knee pain.
Plantar fasciitis is when the tissue that runs along the bottom of your foot becomes inflamed, often caused by repetitive overstress from running or jumping. Shin splints are inflammation in the muscles, tendons, and bone tissue around your shinbone, which can also be caused by overuse or repetitive stress. Knee pain can be caused by overuse, muscle imbalances, and improper movement patterns.
Learning to manage loads with progressive strengthening and enduring balance can help you avoid pain and injury while running.
So, what can you do to prevent these injuries? Here are a few tips:
Shortening your stride, while maintaining your pace, may help load absorption and can help prevent injuries. A run assessment will help you find a stride and pace that works for you.
Strengthening your foot and lower leg muscles with exercises specific to your needs improves stability, making your running more efficient, and your ability to generate and tolerate forces higher.
Progressively increasing the duration and distance of your runs reduces the risk of injury. Having a plan, or asking for help, makes sure you are dosing your exercise appropriately.
By incorporating these tips into your running routine, you can enjoy your trail runs and races while minimizing the risk of injury. So, go out there, hit the trails, and happy running! If you need any support in your adventures, Snowbeast Performance is here for you every step of the way.