Running can seem like the simplest way to exercise and the most complicated at the same time. On one hand, going for a run requires little more than a pair of shoes (or none at all!) and a favorite outdoor route or treadmill. On the other hand, everything from how to hold your arms, shoulders, head, and neck to the way your foot makes contact with the ground has been the source of hot debate among runners. So when it comes to your foot-striking form, what exactly is the right way to run?
Many people think that midfoot striking is the best way to run, since it's supposed to be best for shock absorption, while others recommend heel striking since it's the most natural way to run for most people. Then there's the toe strike, which can help put less stress on your knees and is a good technique when you're running fast (I personally like toe striking when running up hills; it helps me feel lighter on my feet). Lately, with the advent of barefoot and minimalist running shoe trends, your foot-striking preference can be even more important. Fans of barefoot running say that it helps correct your running gait from heel strike to midfoot strike, which many people believe is the best way to run and prevent injury.
Read on for which of these running forms may be right for you.
A recent study showed that Olympic long-distance runners tend to have varying foot strikes, which were not at all predictive of their performance. In fact, a few studies have found that it doesn't matter where your foot strikes when you're running — midfoot, heel, and toe strikers all performed the same. Other research has shown, however, that training to strike on your midfoot (by learning to run barefoot, for example) helps conserve energy and oxygen, creating better running economy.
If you're new to running, how should you run? How you run naturally may just be the best way, since you save energy when you're not constantly trying to correct your gait and since research has shown no difference between gaits. But if you're a heel striker and feel like you hit the ground hard and are prone to injury, experimenting with less-cushioned sneakers or training with barefoot shoes may help.
No matter what your gait, make sure you keep your run safe by starting out slow and doing your research. Whether you choose traditional sneakers or going barefoot, it's not all about lacing on your sneaks and heading out the door. Read our tips on how to choose the right running shoe here, as well as how to transition from regular running shoes to barefoot running shoes here.