Heel Strike

Heel strike consists of the runner landing directly on the heel when making contact with the ground.  Out of the three strike patterns, heel strike is the most common among runners.

As this video shows: the ankle is dorsiflexed (toes point up) during heel contact with the ground.  The runner lands on the middle to the outside of the heel just below the ankle joint.  The foot and lower leg come to a sudden and dead stop at impact.

Heel Strike & Transient Forces

This kind of collision leads to a rapid, high impact transient about 1.5 to as much as 3 times your body weight (depending on your speed) within 50 milliseconds of striking the ground (see graph a below).  Lieberman et al (2010) [2].

This is equivalent to someone hitting you on the heel with a hammer using 1.5 to as much as 3 times your body weight. These impacts add up, since you strike the ground almost 1000 times per mile! [2]  These forces can cause chronic and over-use injuries.

Is There Anything Wrong With Heel Striking in Running Shoes?

Lieberman says : “Not necessarily”.  Many people like to run this way and do so without injury. But some long distance and endurance runners get repetitive stress injuries each year.  To avoid this, it is important to buy the appropriate running shoes to avoid these injuries.

Shoes that facilitate heel strike:

  • Large, flared, cushioned heels-facilitate a comfortable and stable landing on the heel, cushions some of the impact forces and distributes the impact force over a larger area of the rearfoot
  • Arch Support and stiffness elements: good arch support and a stiff insole prevent overpronation and reduces flattening of the foot’s arch due to the high impact forces felt on the foot [2]

Shoe Recommendations

Research has found that cushioned shoe facilitates and promotes heel strike during running [3].   Furthermore, a cushioned shoe at the heel would protect the heel from extremely high forces during running [3].










[1] heel strike video: http://www.youtube.com/user/skeletonheb

[2] http://barefootrunning.fas.harvard.edu/4BiomechanicsofFootStrike.html Lieberman-Harvard Lab 2010.  Accessed 4/16/2012

[3] Article: “Foot Strike Patterns and Collision Forces in Habitually Barefoot versus Shod Runners” by Daniel Lieberman

Heel strike image: http://www.paleotraining.co.uk.  Accessed 4/16/2012


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