Is Rearfoot Striking More Economical than Midfoot Striking?
A study entitled “Rearfoot striking runners are more economical than midfoot strikers” has recently been published by Ogueta-Alday in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. If you were to read the title of the article only, you could be tempted to make a generalization from a rather specific conclusion.
Please find our review below. The study is serious and has been conducted adequately. It shows that from a total of 20 high-level athletes (who run close to 100 km per week and who average between 1:05:00 and 1:15:00 for a half-marathon), rearfoot strikers (10 in total) ran more economically than midfoot or forefoot strikers, when measured at speeds ranging from 11 km/h to 13 km/h (57% to 81% of the VO2).
The following are a series of points detailing how it would be difficult to make a generalization from such results.
- I would remain cautious to extend these conclusions to all runners as there were only 10 per group, and their group was specific to very fast Spanish male runners wearing shoes weighing 250-300 g (10 oz.).
- Their cadence was high and optimal, between 168 (6 min/km) and 186 (3 min/km) according to their speed, which likely caused very little heel striking in terms of the foot-to-ground angle as well as minimal breaking phase and distance from the center of gravity. These parameters were not defined under this study, nor were they compared with those observed in the case of recreational runners… likely to be very different. (Not to mention that grouping heel strikers in a single category, once more, seems questionable to me.)
- This study also failed to show more significant differences in terms of running economy (RE) at higher speeds (15 km/h). Is this pattern reversed at performance level (18 km/h for these athletes), when RE becomes a decisive factor in performance?
A few questions remain unanswered: Would the same conclusions have been reached…
- for recreational runners who do considerably more heel striking?
- for women?
- for East African runners?
- if the study had targeted barefoot runners or athletes who run with minimalist/competition shoes rather than 300 g (10 oz.) shoes?if the RE component had been assessed at performance level rather than at a slow jogging pace?
Once more, the concept of biomechanics is a complex one, specific to each and every one. Given that the literature is rather vague with relation to foot strike pattern, I still continue to believe and tell people that the foot strike pattern of recreational runners who wear big bulky shoes and who run at a cadence lower than 160 is not economical! Next week: How to increase performance through improved running economy (RE)… at the practical level!