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How Should the Foot Touch the Ground? A Quick Analysis of Foot Strike

Posted by on Aug 1, 2012 | 10 Comments

So you decide to take up barefoot or minimalist shoe running. One of the first issues you encounter is foot strike how should your foot interact with the ground?

You scour the Interwez for advice. You read the books. You watch the videos. You get a million opinions.

Some tell you to “run on your toes.”

Some tell you to land on the ball of your foot.

Some say ball-toes-heel.

And so on.

So what should you do?

My best advice- aim to land pancake flat.

It’s an idea I stole borrowed from my friend Jon Sanregret. We’ve been using it in our clinics for some time.

Here’s the rationale:

I tend to agree with Steve Mangress, initial contact should be made with the outside edge of the foot. This minimizes impact forces and begins the process of elastic energy storage as the rest of the foot, including the heel, comes in contact with the ground. Weight is fully transferred to the support leg. As your weight passes over the foot, the hips are used to propel you forward. The foot naturally comes off the ground as a result of the passive inertia of the hip action.

The problem- it’s difficult to consciously think of the foot landing and execute it properly. The more people tend to focus on foot strike, the more other elements of better form suffer.

The solution- use the simple cue of landing pancake-flat.

I’ve filmed several runners using this cue. Guess what? When they try to land flat-footed, they don’t. They land on the lateral edge of the ball of their foot, then the rest of the foot immediately follows. In other words, they land exactly as they should to minimize initial impact forces and maximize elastic recoil.

Of course, foot strike is just one element of better running form, as Pete Larson and Bill Katovsky discuss in this article (and in their great book “Tread Lightly“). Other elements, like posture and stride length, are also important.

If you’re having some trouble mastering foot strike, give the “pancake-flat” learning cue a try!




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  1. Fred
    August 7, 2012

    Good tip, thanks! I always felt that my left foot-strike was significantly different than my right. This was borne out by wear patterns on my shoes. I used the “flat-foot” visualization on a recent 10 mile run and noticed my right foot-strike changed to feel and sound like the left. I’ll keep an eye on my sole wear patterns to see if it makes a measurable difference.

  2. John
    August 2, 2012

    As a former follower of Pose, I went through all of the calf pain, posterior tibial tendonitis, et al. I would keep asking why, but would only get a “You’re not wearing Puma H Streets so you’re running wrong”. Notice I said “former follower”. Plus, they’ve also said “Barefoot running is not Pose”. I couldn’t agree more!

    I’ve seen Daniel Lieberman’s videos how he describes foot strike: The foot will naturally touch down on the lateral side of the foot (as Jason has already pointed out) and then roll in (pronate) as the foot structures load up and disperse the impact shock of landing (which is significantly higher when you heel strike). Using Hip Drive, you propel the leg forward to repeat the process without excessive input from the hamstrings. Dr. Mark Cucuzella’s videos from NRC show this better than I can explain it, and when you see a 40+ year old man running barefoot this way (6:00 miles) you kinda lose interest in Pose.

  3. Gregg
    August 2, 2012

    I stumbled upon this tip by complete accident one day and it helped me tremendously. I was trying so hard to land on the balls of my feet that I couldn’t relax and run. Thinking about landing flat footed completely changed the way I run.

    The other tip that put it all together for me was something off of Ken Bob’s site. He has a post that talks about walking like you’re on the cat walk. I thought it was a weird tip at first but then I tried it. What I realized is I was trying to hard to keep my legs and feet moving in straight lines forward and back.

    Trying to keep straight lines with my legs and feet is something I picked up from a middle school track coach. 25 years later and I have finally been able to put that piece of bad advice in the trash can. I can’t imagine how much easier running could have been with out that thought planted in my head!

  4. Bare Lee
    August 2, 2012

    I ran barefoot 20 years ago, no problem. Then I took up barefoot running again in 2011, and read somewhere that the forefoot landing is key, so I ran like a kangaroo and got a stress reaction in my metatarsals. So then I just ran, and found myself landing exactly as you describe. A little knowledge is dangerous.

  5. Rob Y
    August 1, 2012

    Agreed. This is exactly how I self taught myself to be more of a mid foot stricker many years ago and how I try to keep up good form when I fatigue late in long races.

  6. Quick tips on foot strike in minimalist shoes - REBORN Shoes
    August 1, 2012

    […] Robillard at the Barefoot Running University provided some good advice for anyone wondering about foot strike. Basically he advises people to think about landing with their foot flat and this may be all […]

  7. James
    August 1, 2012

    This is exactly what helped me improve my technique. When I first transitioned to a midfoot strike my calves were getting incredibly sore to the point that I need 3 or 4 days of rest between runs. I then realized I was actively pointing my foot down during the swing phase and just before landing causing my calves to overwork.

    When I thought about landing flat the post run soreness stopped happening and like you said in the article I’m actually not landing flat but slightly more on the lateral edge of the foot.

  8. bryan
    August 1, 2012

    Awesome! This corroborates what I’ve had the most success with personally and have been recommending to others. When people first learn about BOF landing and shortening their stride, it’s easy to run on the toes and tax the calves/achilles. This can be exacerbated by the “figure 4” emphasis in POSE running. I was still experiencing a lot of pain/soreness/shin splints from picking my foot straight up and dropping it straight down. Then I saw an ultra runner plodding along with what looked like really strong sustainable form. I noticed that his feet weren’t propelling up toward his glutes and coming right back down, but were merely gliding over the ground with his sole roughly parallel to the ground the whole time. Once I took that as my goal for foot landing, I slowed down a lot but have had no pain. Now I’m just trying to get used to it enough to run a little faster without thing breaking down. So that’s what I’ve been telling people. Not emphasizing the pancake flat landing, although that’s the result, but the non-vertical sole during the entire range of motion. And I agree that torso posture is also extremely important. What struck me about this ultra runner was that, despite his slow pace, he had a very stable torso and a rocking six pack 🙂

  9. alvinj88
    August 1, 2012

    works for me..I have wide feet and can absorb the initial impact with no im short (typical austronesian built) 5’6 asian man.

  10. ratwoman
    August 1, 2012

    I’m really a beginner and way from such a badass runner than you are…

    but I finally mastered the landing (I think so, maybe it’s not that perfekt) I read, you should relax your ankle – it works fine for me. When I try to land flat, I hold my foot stiff an my muscles become sore. Relaxing it and let it wobble around ended in landing how you described it, on the outside edge of the ball. Plus it feels good – relaxed, I do not have to think about it.

    It also resulted in not getting blisters any longer (on slow pace, I do have to learn that for faster runs). Maybe that doesn’t work if your feet are ill or you are too much into shod running, but for beginners it might work?