US Olympic Trials 10,000m foot-strike variation

One of the most commonly sighted running technique ‘flaws’ is heel-striking. But these images taken of elite men and women at the US Olympic Trials 10,000m seem to tell a very different story.

I’ve promised in the excerpt to this article to say little and let the pictures do the talking, but I will make a few brief observations and pose a few questions which I’d invite readers to offer some thoughts on.

So without further introduction, here are the images taken by Dr Iain Hunter of Brigham Young University that he has kindly given me permission to publish here.

Women’s 10,000m US Olympic Trials foot-strike images

Men’s 10,000m US Olympic Trials foot-strike images

Some observations

I don’t think it’s drawing too long a bow to suggest the following after looking at these images.

It is possible to sustain very fast running as a heel-striker

So perhaps this is stating the obvious, but it’s interesting to see such fast runners exhibiting, in some cases, pretty dramatic heel-tapping. How is this possible? Forefoot striking is supposed to be all about running fast?

Heel-striking isn’t necessarily a short cut to debilitating injury

I think it’s safe to assume that during their running careers that many of the pictured runners have been able to sustain lengthy periods of high volume and high intensity injury free running. Sure at some point I’m sure many have been injured, but that’s part and parcel of pushing the envelop at the elite level.

How can I say this with any confidence? Well it’s pretty unlikely that even the most gifted athlete on the planet could turn up off a couple of weeks training and run the 10,000m in under 28 minutes.

These guys and girls have been pushing the envelope. I’d argue that if heel-striking was such a dangerous thing, wouldn’t the elite volume and intensity of training push them over the edge into injury? How did the heel-strikers even reach the start-line in these trials?

So what?

Well the argument that all runners should be looking to transition from heel-striking to forefoot or mid-foot striking is one of the most all pervading messages runners hear day-in day-out. The popular running methods Pose and Chi are on board with this call, as are many shoe companies looking to entice runners into wearing shoes that promise to facilitate or help you develop a forefoot or mid-foot running style.

But is this necessary, wise or even effective at reducing injury rates or promoting performance levels? These pictures suggest there is a much bigger picture at play.

Conclusion

So this my world-record shortest blog post, but I do have a few articles in the works that will touch on some of the reasons why I believe foot-strike modification is one of the lower priority running technique interventions. And controversially, why it might also lead to problems that perhaps were not initially foreseen. Regular readers of the blog will no doubt have an idea where I’m headed, but there’s a few additional angles that I will be adding into the discussion. In the interim feel free to jump in with thoughts, comments and suggestions.

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15 Responses to US Olympic Trials 10,000m foot-strike variation

  1. paul June 29, 2013 at 6:01 am #

    pictures dont lie, pictures also do not tell full story of running, a snap shot in time, does not tell as what is happening inside the body at this time. is foot position on initial contact the most important thing to observe, or that foot position during loading helps to facilitate loading of posterior chain muscles?

    • Brian June 29, 2013 at 7:39 am #

      Hi Paul, foot posture on contact dose not seem as important as most would have us believe. The loading phase during contact is clearly much more important.

  2. John Wilkinson July 19, 2012 at 11:02 pm #

    Photos never lie. As a beginning runner I am paying a high degree of attention to this topic. Because (1)I’m terribly out of shape, (2)the epitomy of a sloppy runner…etc.

    I would like to see the weigth transfer throughout the step. I see a lot of striking the ground with the blade of the foot. I would expect to see the weight roll around to the balls of the foot in a slow motion video.

    These are great images I’d like to see the rest of the movie.

    • Brian July 20, 2012 at 6:18 am #

      Hi John, yes the rest of the images/movie will tell us a lot more.

  3. Tom June 29, 2012 at 10:05 am #

    While I believe that for most people mid foot or forefoot striking is probably the most efficient and safest I also must believe that their are variations and exceptions due to a myriad of factors. The fact is that like the old saying goes, “there is more than one way to skin a cat!”
    It will take a lot more research to even begin to understand this topic, especially the individual variations, and it is dangerous to overgeneralize when dealing with individual traits, especially those that have been developed over a number of years of serious running.
    One firm belief is that alot of mechanical problems are not so much due to running form itself but structural imbalances, weaknesses, and bad habits picked up by either poor coaching or people trying to copy a certain runners “style.” I think a lot of kids who get involved develop bad mechanics through too much mileage or to intense training, by being over coached in regards to running form, and not developing the basic over all skeletal strength which would allow them to run naturally and with mechanical effieciency.

    • Brian June 29, 2012 at 10:09 am #

      G’day Tom, thanks for the comment and totally agree there definitely seems to be a few different cat-skinny methods!

  4. Steven June 28, 2012 at 9:37 pm #

    Blaise, I’d give my right arm to be as “back in the pack” as Aaron Braun’s 27:41 or Bobby Mack’s 27:58! These people are the cream of the crop and the pictures don’t lie.

    Brian, your point about (possibly) incorrect correlation between heel striking and injury in these elites is definitely a valid one.

    • Brian June 29, 2012 at 10:08 am #

      Thanks Steven, there’s definitely seems to be a lot more to it that foot-strike alone.

  5. blaise dubois June 28, 2012 at 12:51 pm #

    Interesting to see that for male, in the first half, there is a lot less heel striker (2) compare to the last half (6)… (same tendency for female)… more your are in back of the pack, more we observe “more rear foot striker (more positive angle between the foot and the ground) ”

    Are they “more heel striker” juste because they run slower? … or, they run slower because they are less efficient?
    Blaise

    • Brian June 28, 2012 at 3:16 pm #

      Hi Blaise, yes I would agree with that, at the very top end (world class) there seems fewer heel-strikers so would assume it’s slightly more efficient. Maybe the foot-strike is part of the last 5-10% that takes one to the next level? Not sure, but it does show that the ability to run fast is probably less about initial contact pattern than perhaps we thought? So good running technique might be 90-95% made up of other important factors perhaps? All good stuff though.

  6. rohan armstrong June 28, 2012 at 12:02 pm #

    Hi, interesting piece thanks brian. simon bartold will be happy to see this!
    first thing i was wondering is at what stage of the race were these shots taken, i.e. is fatigue a factor?
    as a advocate a mid/forefoot running that occurred for me by accident when i took up track sprinting, i try to help many people/patients to improve the efficiency of their running technique. i guess the key factor in those that i deal with is that they all present with an injury or issue which needs addressing and hence i feel can benefit from adjustment to a more efficient technique that results in reduced structural loading, being the main objective i am looking for.
    perhaps as in many sports, you can get away with many varied techniques until something breaks down, at which point you look to improve the efficiency of that technique to avoid a recurrence of same. in that sense, i think this type of information as in your website serves as a blueprint for improved technique.

    • Brian June 28, 2012 at 3:11 pm #

      Hi Rohan. Haha I wasn’t thinking of Simon when I wrote this, more after a thought provoker rather than advocating for heel-striking or any kind of striking for that matter. As I’ve said a few times I think you’re in the safety zone if your landing is active rather than a dead crash-landing with no glute/hamstring activation. I’m generally disposed to the idea that forefoot striking is technically better, but it maybe only the fourth or fifth thing that people need to work on (if they need improvement), rather than being considered a top priority. All good food for thought.

      Also not sure of the stage of the race, but I’d suspect (with some variability) that most would have a pattern that was pretty similar for most of the race. Wait and see what Iain does with the data, we may know more soon

  7. Greg June 28, 2012 at 10:01 am #

    I’d like to see where their feet are striking in relation to body position – ie foot landing under the body not way out in front, and I also assume they’d be landing with bent knee ? (as opposed to straight knee)

    • Brian June 28, 2012 at 10:14 am #

      Hi Greg, me too, doubt we see the ‘dead’ landing often associated with the heel-striking. I’m very interested in what Iain does with the data he’s collected. Lots to learn from it.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Doit-on diaboliser l’attaque au sol par le talon? | Trimes.org - January 22, 2013

    […] omment se fait-il que l’observation de la foulée des meilleurs coureurs d’endurance montre qu’un pourcentage très substantiel d’entre eux touche le sol en premier avec le talon. Comment est-ce possible s’il est si mauvais de courir en attaquant du talon ? Voici un exemple sur 10kms de plusieurs des meilleurs coureurs de 10km (hommes et femmes) (source:http://www.runningtechniquetips.com/2012/06/us-olympic-trials-10000m-footstrike-variation) […]