Today I will talk to you about midfoot stride, heel attack and other topics that make stride analysis a complex subject. We saw it in my first article introducing stride analysis, the variables are numerous... And above all, a lot of things are said on the subject, things that are not always true... I would like to break a myth that often comes back on the Internet with the question "How to stop attacking heel? If this question may be interesting, it is not always the right one to ask and I will explain why. Improving your stride does not necessarily require a midfoot stride or a forefoot pose.
A light and dynamic heel attack is effective!
The heel attack itself is not to be prohibited. But if you compare a jogger's heel attack to that of a professional marathon runner, you will see a big difference. Because yes, in the end, there are pro athletes who are on the heels. Including Kenyan and Ethiopian marathon runners! And that doesn't stop them from running at 20km/h on a marathon. Why is that? Why is that? Because their heel attack is very light, their stride remains dynamic. In fact, if we are talking about heel attack in the literal sense because it is the heel that lands first, we should rather say that they touch the ground with their heel.
Scientists have called this stride the "proprioceptive heel attack". Because if, physically, the shoe touches the ground by the heel first, the runner's weight only impacts the ground when the foot is flat. In the end, this amounts to the same as a medio-foot stride strictly speaking. The important thing is that the foot impacts the ground below the runner's centre of gravity.
Instead of generating a strong shock wave that spreads throughout the leg and into the back, the impact force will be absorbed by the foot, ankle, muscles and vertebrae. These parts of the body have an elasticity that allows them to absorb this impact force and even reuse it in the propulsion phase. The stride also becomes more effective when the gesture is natural, automatic.
Shoes promote heel attack
Very often the difference between midfoot stride and proprioceptive heel attack is simply related to the drop of the shoe. Drop is the difference between the height of the sole at the heel and the forefoot. This drop varies between 8 and 10mm on most modern shoes. And a few extra millimetres of sole make the difference. This changes the stride dynamics, forcing the foot to rest on the heel.
The large drops were created by sports equipment manufacturers to put damping foam and minimize the impact of our strides on the ground. Unfortunately, the laudable idea at the base, made the riders enter a vicious circle. The drop favours the heel attack this heel attack which, barefoot, hurts (there is only one bone in the heel!) becomes comfortable, the runner's stride gets used to the heel attack, the running pace slows down, the impact of each stride on the ground increases...
However, many riders have a rather limited heel attack and therefore quite acceptable! It is not necessarily necessary to devote a cult to the medio-foot stride. But the photos are sometimes misleading and frightening. In fact, depending on when the stride is taken, the impression will be different. On social networks, we regularly see comments such as "attention ça talonne". With the previous paragraph, you will be able to understand that it is not necessarily important to follow if this heel attack is effective. But there is another point to consider.
If you have a photo that shows the stride "long before the impact on the ground", it cannot predict the nature of the foot pose. Take the example below. The faster I run, the more I have the foot that will look far ahead. The foot points upwards and seems to indicate a big heel attack. However, a few moments before the impact on the ground, the tip of the foot plunged forward. This gives what I called above: a proprioceptive heel attack. To make it clearer tonight, I made you a video on the subject. There are examples of professional triathlete strides and my stride, all in slow motion and commented.
Midfoot stride or proprioceptive heel attack?
Both of them, Captain! If the pronounced heel attack shows its lesser effectiveness, between medio-foot stride and proprioceptive heel, it is different. Several studies have focused on the subject and have shown that professionals are divided between heel to toe attack and forefoot attack. These studies do not show a correlation with superior performance for either stride. At this point, the installation slightly by the heel or slightly by the forefoot is a story of personal running mechanics. Every runner is different, so every stride is different.
By the way, we say medium-foot but it is an abuse of language, this part of the foot does not exist. If the shoe can give the impression that one sets the foot by the middle, hence the name medio-pied, in reality it is only a limited forefoot attack.
Do you need to modify your stride to improve it?
This is perhaps the most controversial point on the subject. Is it advisable to consciously modify your stride to improve your performance? If you look at the scientific studies, it's not convincing. Several studies have been carried out on people accustomed to a heel attack. Changing voluntarily for a midfoot stride did not show an improvement in performance.
This is in line with many coaches who say that "the stride naturally improves with running" and that therefore you just have to run more often to improve your stride. I am divided on the subject because the studies are carried out over a short period of time. This short period does not allow to fundamentally modify the stride by creating the right automatisms in the brain. As it is the fact of doing things unconsciously / automatically that makes us effective, I would be curious to see a longer-term study... I did this stride change work voluntarily until it became automatic and for me it was effective...
One thing is certain, a forced, rapid and therefore brutal transition seems to be a major factor in injury. As in all other sectors, progressiveness is required. If you change something, go step by step, without exaggerating what you change.
Injuries with heel attack and midfoot stride
We saw the performance aspect but there is also the injury aspect. The heel attack has a reputation for generating more injuries. It seems obvious that the more pronounced the heel attack, the greater the risk of injury. Studies on the subject show this. However, switching to a medium-foot / forefoot stride is not necessarily free of any risk either... In fact, we can categorize the main injury / pain areas according to the types of strides:
- Heel attack: Knees, back, hips, shins.
- Front foot attack: Feet, Ankles
Improve your stride without radically transforming it?
If the heel attack is not problematic (no pain / injuries in the indicated areas), looking for a medio-foot stride at all costs may not be a good thing! Fighting your heel attack can generate more trouble than benefits so you have to ask yourself the question... Science doesn't answer it clearly today and if I made the effort to change my stride successfully... That was before I analyzed this subject in depth. And the more I read the studies done on the subject, the more I realize that I made a transition in a gentle, progressive way, without anything radical... Maybe the solution is simply to work on your technique on a daily basis? Try to have a positive impact on your stride without making any changes?
If the renowned scientists and coaches do not agree, I will not decide either. But I will give you a set of techniques and exercises that I use or have used. Practiced regularly, I am convinced of their interest in improving the racing economy!