Footstrike Patterns of Best Athletes in 2012 USA Olympic Trials 10,000 Meter Race
Many self-proclaimed “running gait form experts” (e.g. POSE method, Chi Running) preach that rearfoot-striking running is terrible, but forefoot-striking and midfoot-striking running is good. Unfortunately, there is not a single shred of research evidence to suggest that injury rates are any higher in rearfoot strikers than in midfoot- or forefoot-striking runners. Multiple running research studies have shown that over 90% of runners choose to rearfoot-strike during running. There is a wide variety of footstrike patterns, even in elite distance runners.
To emphasize this point, here is a slow-motion video of the 2012 USA 10,000-meter Olympic Trials at approximately the 2-mile mark. These runners represent the fastest 10,000-meter distance runners in the United States during 2012 and thus would all be considered elite, not average runners.
Footstrike Patterns in Elite Runners
One of the first things noted in this video is the wide variety of footstrike patterns among these elite distance runners. There are a few forefoot strikers, midfoot strikers, and rearfoot strikers. Lead runners average about a 4:25 mile pace, while the middle-of-the-pack runners average about a 4:30 mile pace. In other words, these runners are all running at a very similar speed to each other.
Research has shown that as the runner runs at a faster velocity, they will also be more likely to forefoot-strike or midfoot-strike than rearfoot-strike. However, research has also shown that even elite distance runners can be rearfoot-strikers. The notion that average runners, running a 6:00 minute to 9:00 mile pace, should be trained to change their running footstrike pattern to more of a midfoot-strike or forefoot-strike pattern has no basis in science and does not make good biomechanical sense.
Scientific evidence shows that the central nervous systems of highly-trained runners, such as the elite distance runners seen in this video, over time, select the most metabolically-efficient footstrike patterns (i.e. rearfoot-, midfoot-, or forefoot-striking) for their biomechanical makeup.
The preferred footstrike patterns of trained runners are highly individualized and should generally not be changed.
Footstrike Pattern of Trained Runners
The caution to not change the footstrike pattern of trained runners is especially true for those self-proclaimed “running form experts.” (e.g. Pose Running, Chi Running) These experts explain to their “students” that rearfoot-strike running is terrible, causes injuries, is inefficient and that they should be running with either a midfoot or forefoot-striking pattern. These “running form experts” are dead wrong.
Rearfoot-striking running is suitable for many runners (i.e. 90+% of runners), has not been shown to cause more injuries and is a very efficient running footstrike pattern for many runners, especially at running speeds slower than 6 minutes per mile. These “self-proclaimed running form experts” cause more injuries to runners since they change their footstrike pattern to one that is unnatural for the individual. These “self-proclaimed running form experts,” to sound as if they have better knowledge than others, are acting as if they somehow know more about the runner’s body than the central nervous system of the runner, which is far from the truth.