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Is There A Right Way To Run? A Few Reasons You Shouldn’t Be Running Like An Idiot

Posted by on Dec 14, 2011 | 19 Comments

Is there a right way to run?

Sometimes I’m shocked this topic is still debated.  There is a right way to run, and it’s pretty simple.  You should be running with relatively short, fast strides with your feet landing under your body.  You should NOT be running with a slow, plodding stride and landing on your heel well out in front of your body.  Here’s a quick graphic:

So why is the dude on the left wrong?  Here are some arguments:

1. We only started running like this about 25-30 years ago.  Go back and watch any video of runners prior to 1980 or so.  NONE ran like the dude on the left.  EVERYONE ran like the chick on the right.  Did EVERYONE, from the average recreational runner to Olympic champion, do it wrong back in the day?

2. Kids inherently run like the woman on the right.  Have kids?  Watch them run barefoot.  They run like the chick.  In fact, they only run like the dude on the left when we place them in chunky shoes with a raised heel.  Hmmm… if we are supposed to land on our heel, why don’t kids instinctively do it?

3. The body is not designed to land on the heel.  Here’s a little demonstration.  Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart.  Jump up in the air.  While in the air, straighten your legs, lock your knees, and land on your heels.  When you land, it hurts like Hell.  Now do the same thing except bend your knees and land on the ball of your foot.  WHOA!  YOUR FEET AND LEGS ACT LIKE SHOCK ABSORBERS!!!  Hot damn, it’s almost like your legs were designed to work that way!

4. The braking effect wastes energy.  Planting your heel in front of your body momentarily stops momentum, thus requiring a more forceful push-off to regain lost momentum.  More on that here.

5. The dude on the left will have horrid balance.  The chick on the right will not.  Landing on your heel in front of your body places your support well ahead of your center of gravity.  Landing on your midfoot under your center of gravity keeps you in control.  Don’t believe me?  Try this experiment.  Run on ice.  Use the form like the dude on the left.  When you get back from the emergency room from your “slip-and-fall” injury, try running like the chick.  You don’t fall.  Why?  Balance.

6. The heel strike is not supported by science.  Never has been.  Never will be.  I challenge anyone to find a single peer-reviewed published study that supports the premise of landing on the heel as a superior form of running.

7. Good running coaches don’t teach runners to land on their heel.  This applies to any level- high school, college, Olympics, whatever.  When it comes to maximizing potential, those that understand the practical applications of running form teach a technique that looks like the chick, not the dude.

It’s easy to learn good form.  Check out the “barefoot running” link above or try the stuff from Merrell.  The same principles apply for running barefoot or running in minimalist shoes.  Hell, you can even keep wearing those cushioned marshmallow shoes and still reap some benefits by learning good running form.

There are more reasons, but this is just a start.  Have any more to add?  Include them in the comments!

Know any heel strikers?  Send them this link.  😉



Editor’s note- The term “chick”, as used in this post, is intended to refer to the awesome women that run ultramarathons and is in no way meant to be derogatory.  The term is also used by my female friends to describe themselves, as seen here:

Also, note the chick is the one running correctly.  😉

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  1. patillades
    December 20, 2011

    Hi, excellent article as always. Three questions: how do you walk, barefoot or with shoes? Do you also do it landing on the ball of the feet or do you heel strike? Also, do ypu run with your feet being parallel or you open the angle between them a little bit?


  2. Dave Robertson
    December 15, 2011

    I’m sure I just saw that red dude in action in this video by a large running shoe company…?!

  3. Erik
    December 15, 2011

    Just curious Jason: do you encounter much hostility from shod, heel-striking runners to your/our message? And if so, have you noticed any increase or decrease in hostility over the last few years?

  4. John
    December 15, 2011

    The toddlers around my old apartment complex got it right. They lean from the ankles and catch themselves with their forefeet. Both adorable and enlightening to watch!

  5. Mark P
    December 14, 2011

    Tried the jumping part just for kicks, found something interesting. My body would not allow myself to lock out my knees and land on my heel. No matter how hard I tried it was almost like my brain was afraid to let that happen, very cool.

  6. Kyle Nichol
    December 14, 2011

    It always amazes me that form is not something that is taught on a normal occurrence for introductory runners. Why is it that new runners put on their marshmallow shoes and are not taught to run properly? Instead people are not taught and just run however in shoes that numb all sensation, and are designed to do so. Form should be king, whether barefoot, minimalist or marshmallow.

  7. Jeff Gallup
    December 14, 2011

    Outstanding.. thanks! I’ve noticed that by spending time running barefoot when I can, or in minimalist sandals, that the correct form carries over to even the evil hi-tech running shoes. I had to switch to my old shoes due to snow/ice/cold, and found that I can still run correctly in them.. although I have an urge to cut the heel off…

  8. Sam H
    December 14, 2011

    I like the look back into history you give. Not ancient tribal/caveman history. Just a single or double generational history. To me, that’s the best arguement.

    It’s the feet that have to catch up with the body, in most of our experiences. I had a good, strong cardio system built up from running but weak calves, feet etc…

  9. Linkscoach
    December 14, 2011

    You’re right. If only my body could figure out how to do it right. I’m 39 and I’ve been an over-strider, heel striker for as long as I can remember. My dad used to get mad at me because I would walk through the house to loudly (barefoot, big strides, on the heels, lots of noise)

    I know walking isn’t running but I’m having a very difficult time figuring our how to run with a short quick stride. I started out with Free Run+’s but they made my knees hurt. Switched to Trail Gloves about 5-6 months ago. Better but I still tend to heel strike. I even heel strike barefoot.

    I can not heel strike if I think about it but then I tend to run to much on the ball of my foot and unnaturally keep my weight from transferring to my heel.

    Do I just need to give it more time?

    • Brian G
      December 14, 2011

      Maybe you’re over thinking this.

      Try viewing it this way: proper running form is what results when you repeatedly catch yourself with your feet so that you don’t fall flat on your face from constantly leaning forward.

      Stand up straight and lean forward until you start falling over. At the last minute, catch yourself by putting your foot out in front of you. I would suspect you’re landing with your foot relatively flat. Stay in that position while looking sideways in a mirror. You will probably be having a mid-foot strike with your foot under you with a slight forward lean, like the chick on the right.

      Repeat that motion frequently enough with alternating feet and you’ll find yourself running.

    • Anne
      December 15, 2011

      Good advice from Brian G.

      I was a heel striker for years, and I learned the hard way that the transition isn’t always easy.

      For me, it came naturally to switch to a forefoot strike as soon as I tried running barefoot. It felt great, and for this reason I assumed I’d tapped into an innate ability to run with perfect form. Incorrect, as subsequent injury demonstrated.

      Turns out I’d retained the over-striding which goes along with heel striking (see the guy on the left above). I fixed this with a combination of the technique Brian G recommends and working on ankle flexibility.

      For correct form you need the ability to flex your foot up. This makes it much easier to achieve the slight forward lean from the ankles you need.

      A useful trick is to perform a deep squat as part of your stretching routine. Keep your feet flat on the floor, rather than rising onto your toes. While in this position, try gently rocking backwards and forwards (holding onto something in front of you for support).

      Hope this helps!

    • Mo
      December 15, 2011

      For anyone having trouble, READ JASON’s BOOK! Seriously, for far less than the price of a pair of shoes, you can get proper technique dialed in… Also, check out Ken Bob Saxton’s book. The two combined will be about as much as you spend on a shirt.

  10. briderdt
    December 14, 2011

    I love the “ice test”.

  11. Matthew Lim
    December 14, 2011

    I’m still in the infancy stage in transitioning so I really appreciate this, and so far all your other posts. Admittedly, the part I like best of this article is your disclaimer that “chick” is used in a good sense.

  12. kai keliikuli
    December 14, 2011

    Love it! I don’t see how anyone can argue with this reasoning. I can heel strike for about 3 miles before I injure something, I can midfoot strike for 100 miles and be running again the next day injury free.

  13. Rob
    December 14, 2011

    For the most part I agree with everything you say. I too have seen the err of my ways and transitioned from clunky, over built trail shoes with high heel-to-toe drop to lower drop shoes and, as a result, changed my entire running form from being a major heel striker (though still very fast runner, I won’t lie I still ran pretty damn fast as a heel striker!) to much more of a mid-foot striker with some heel action every now and then (based on my shoe wear).

    However there are occasions where, for good or bad, heel striking is almost impossible to avoid.

    1. Walking. Whether I’m walking casually or speed hiking in a race; I’m heel striking and it doesn’t hurt or feel unusual. In fact when I try to speed hike by not heel striking it feels unusual and unnatural.

    2. Offroad terrain and mixed gradient trails. Some times when I’m running down a steep incline, either on or off trail (all off road) it’s hard to not heel strike and in fact sometimes this very braking action is desired to keep in control! It too feels natural. I’m talking on very steep terrain and rough trail surfaces.

    3. That finish kick. Perhaps it’s not the “correct” way to run, but I know from doing intervals on the track or coming home fast in a 5km that there are usually two ways to speed up. Increase my cadence and continue to mid-foot strike or lengthen my stride and maintain my cadence and yes, heel strike some. While I guess I “should” be just trying to increase cadence, it’s often much easier (because I’m tired) to just increase my stride length. Again, this isn’t the normal running action for me but just in full sprint mode. Usually I can get on my toes and run but this is sort of below sprint speed and fast tempo speed. It isn’t a major heel strike but more than normal.

    Each of these 3 actions have never caused me any issues in the 20 years I’ve been running/racing. What caused me issues was trying to run and heel strike in ALL of my running not just these select scenarios.

    I personally believe the jury is still out, most of these studies were performed on even terrain or treadmills; a far cry from actual running conditions in real situations both on/off road. These studies also seem to only study “fresh” runners and don’t (or haven’t) looked at how one’s form naturally degrades as one fatigues like during the later stages of a long race. It would be interesting to study long distance runner’s form during the end game of a long endurance race; to see what range of forms they’ve “settled” into… wouldn’t those be the most “natural” of all forms? A form that one naturally gravitates to when their fatigued?

    • Christopher Wiley
      December 14, 2011

      I have actually just read a report about marathon runners near the end of the run and their form. Guess what? Something like 90+% were heel striking at that point. What does that say? I don’t know… I am a mid-foot striker myself and believe it is better form. I just think we get sloppy as we exhaust our muscles not neccessarily get more natural.

      • Rob
        December 15, 2011

        I agree, it’s an issue of fatigue more than anything else. But you know what? We can also turn this around and realize that since the human body is such an amazingly adaptable machine that perhaps heel striking isn’t going to kill us or even injure us anymore than running with “proper form.” While I am a reformed heel-striker myself, and overall healthier w/o any loss of speed, it still don’t believe there is any one correct way to run for all situations and environments. Just a straw poll of my local running community shows just as many folks dealing with ailments and injuries who are heel strikers vs. mid-foot strikers. At the end of the day the volume of running you do, the speed at which you do it and how many years you’ve been doing it come into play a lot more than the specifics of how you run. This is a brutal sport, you wear down over time; we can’t escape that no matter how we run…

  14. Jason Fitzgerald
    December 14, 2011

    My name is Jason Fitzgerald and I’m a recovering heel striker…

    #2 is eye opening. Amazing. My daughter especially, she floats around with these little quick steps. She and I “run” together and I try to mimic her cadence. Fun!

    Here’s a video of them:

    (You tube has a new slow motion option, use it if you can).