Ask Brad: Heel vs Forefoot Striking

Hi Coach Hudson,

Do you think I could possibly get your take on the whole midfoot/forefoot vs. heel striking issue. I would really like to hear your opinion. I enjoy viewing all the things you post on facebook. I also really enjoyed what you had to say recently about aerobic training in an interview. Thanks so much.

Hi. Good question. I don’t favor mid or heel striking but rather you develop your own efficient way of running. From running a lot and from drills that help with ground contact. From what I have seen that is more important and both heel and mid can have longer or shorter depending on their stride. There are great heel strikers and great forefoot strikers and an athlete like Bekele that can do both and use each when needed.

Geb is an amzing forefoot striker but never was great in cross where it affects the efficiency. Also remember one of the most important things is your ability to stay healthy. I do think athletes that have developed well from their youth usually have the ability to gain energy rather than lose it in regards to fore or mid. Remember, that a much bigger issue is ground contact. The longer you’re on the ground the slower you run.

When I was competing I was a forefoot striker and had decent ground contact. Now I’m a heel striker that can have lunch in the time I hit the ground and take off again. Most distance runners do land on their heels but there are many more extreme heel strikers that were great. Alberto Salazar, Jon Brown, John Treacy, Dathan Ritzenhein, Craig Virgin, John Nugugi.

Grete Waitz. Lynn Jennings. Deena Drossin. Most were very good cross country runners.

Then the forefoot strikers — Suzy Hamilton, Geb, Galen Rupp, Bill Rodgers, Rudy Chapa, Ken Martin, Shaheen Bekele Both and can turn into a sprinter when he needs to. Most run closer to mid or heel but don’t spend much time on the ground so they appear to be more mid or toe strikers. I like watching forefoot strikers as they look more efficient and elastic.

So you tend to think the faster you go the more efficient people are usually on their forefoot but the most important thing to understand that SPEED comes from the foot. The power of the foot. I think you want to run as natural and relaxed as you can but always working on ground contact. That is why even my marathoners do sprint drills 2-4 times weekly (ankling very important) and hill sprints. They all will train the extremes. So, nervous system with drills and short hills.

I always get a lot of elite athletes that say when they go to altitude they don’t have turnover. So when people think of speed they think of quick reps 200m to 600m is their speed but that is them running Anerobic work that will def. improve your efficiency and sharpen you up dealing with lactate but you can always work on your speed in every period doing drills and hill sprints.
Hope that can help.

For the cross guys – Usually when you forefoot strike you are less efficient with any kind of resistance like mud, gravel, or long grass and are better on the  road or track where there is energy return from forefoot elastic energy and a better rythym.

I know many people see me as an aerobic guy, which I am, but almost evey athlete I’ve coached has also trained like a pure sprinter at least 1x weekly and contrary to what people think, hills do not slow you down on the flat. The body only knows that it is running max. The nervous sytem understands only that. Sprinting on hills and sprinting on flat is all sprinting. We use hills so there is less injury risk and of course you can bring the grade down and work more on ground contact if you over-stride or try to strengthen using a longer stride if you shuffle.

Speed is one thing and having a kick is another. The ability to kick has to do with being able to recruit fast twtich fibers when they are flooded with lactate. So, for this we use 60-90 sec. hills done max and speed with short rest. Ex. 4 x 4 x400m 60,60,60,57-56 45-60sec. rec. 5:00 sets for sub 13min. 5km runner.

Remember this is the sharpening stuff as usually the best kicker is the freshest in the last 400m. Or the fastest with the best specific endurance or specific endurance tests of 5 x 1200m 63 60sec. rec. + 800m max. speed.