Walking #3: Are you a heel-striking or forefoot-... - Active 10

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Walking #3: Are you a heel-striking or forefoot-striking walker?

CBDB profile image
CBDBAdministrator

As you may have gathered, I am relearning how to walk. And quite surprisingly, something that I thought I knew how to do all my life is not quite that simple.

This evening, one question kept me occupied: is heel-striking actually the best way to walk?

Now, as a runner, I’ve become aware of how healthy it is for my bones, for my legs, and for my tendons to use a forefoot strike when going on one of my usual, super-snaily, shuffling Japanese slow-jogs. It suits me, feels right, despite me being quite overweight, thanks to my annoying thyroid condition. But it seems the arches in my feet can take it. And apart from a metatarsal issue following a miss-step on a stone, I have had no problems with my feet.

But I had always assumed that one of the key things that differentiates running from walking is whether you apply a forefoot strike or heel strike. When I walk, there is no way that my forefoot strikes the earth before my heel.

And I wondered about those who use minimalist shoes to walk, as surely that must provide some problems. There is no spring in the heel, and just thinking of having minimalist shoes on and heel-striking every step, it seems harsh and made up of unrelenting shocks to our bones.

So in my search, I found the following videos, which I think are really enlightening.

And my questions to you in our walking community are:

How do you walk?

Do you use a forefoot strike or a heel strike?

Do you walk with minimalIst shoes or padded/normal shoes?

Do you choose shoes that have zero drop between the heel and forefoot?

Let us know.

Having tried this just for some short sections of my current walks, I plan to try this out on a whole walk. We’ll see how easy it is to retrain my 50+ years of learned heel-strike walk into nimble, springy forefoot walk! 😁

The videos that got me pondering are linked below:

Grown & Healthy: How to Walk (In Response to Bob and Brad) @Bob & Brad In-Depth (14 min)

youtu.be/bGST6h3yhJE

Bob & Brad: Physical Therapist Shows How to Walk Correctly (12 min)

youtu.be/2BfbiyIKnK4

30 Replies

Interesting.. not sure I agree with the advice. It somehow doesn’t look very natural, but maybe that is because the movements are slowed down in the video. I’m going to have to think about it when I go for a walk later.

As I think I’ve said before, the right shoes are absolutely essential. Because of my particular issues I have done a lot of research into running and walking shoes. I have spent far too much on trial and many errors! I now always wear shoes with low foot drop - my favourite shoes are 3 or 4mm drop, but between zero and 6mm and no higher. I always buy online now from Sportsshoes.com because each shoe listing usually gives the foot drop measurement at the end of the features drop down.

CBDB profile image
CBDBAdministrator in reply to PeggySusi

Yes, I was wishing he would just walk normal for a bit. Also he is barefoot, but of course that is the point.

His logic makes sense, but it just feels not comfortable. (But I do have a cheap pair of minimalist shoes I usually use for indoor rowing, so I might try go outside walking with those)

Annabel Streets in her book 52 Ways To Walk has a chapter about gait, but although she quotes quite a few scientists, she seems to avoid the whole heel/forefoot strike debate, but in that chapter it feels like a glaring omission.

What that tells me is that the science is still not giving a unanimous picture. So it’s probably fair to say, the jury is still out.

Low drop: yes, I’ve bought my last shoes also from Sportsshoes exactly for the same reason. It started to frustrate me when I came across so many shops (online or real) that did not disclose drop.

And I find it strange that running shops doing a gait analysis don’t discuss issues about drop with customers when deciding on the best shoes. At least they did not with me when I got my first pair of runnjng shoe in a dedicated running shop, and I ended up with quite a high drop, having run before only in medium and low drop without me even being aware of that. (I had even brought both my prior runnjng shoes which should have given the person an inkling)

I would assume it’s even worse with walking shoes, and I until recently only thought of hiking and walking boots, when using the term walking shoes.

You live and learn.

MrNiceGuy profile image
MrNiceGuy in reply to PeggySusi

You're right to disagree. Attempting to adopt a mid-foot strike when walking on flat, stable surfaces is simply un-natural. At times, there's no need to fix that which isn't broken; simply continue to walk normally and don't creep down the street.

Equally, while I'm not familiar with your current issues, if a drop of 3-6mm in both casual and running footwear works for you, don't listen to the 'noise' created by those who insist that all footwear REALLY SHOULD be zero-drop.

Since you know your feet better than anyone, if a 3-6mm drop is where you currently are, don't feel pressured into transitioning towards anything lower.

Besides, since the one prospective study to date, by Altman & Davis (2016), found no statistical difference in injury rates between conventionally shod and minimalist runners: doi: 10.1136/bjsports-2014-094482, if you're currently running injury free, don't attempt to fix something that isn't broken.

CBDB profile image
CBDBAdministrator in reply to MrNiceGuy

Yes, definitely.

In running, my issue was rather the reverse, I think. The shoes I had been wearing when I was starting to run 2 years ago were low drop usually, without me knowing it. My first visit analysis more than a year into running (I know, it should have cone earlier) resulted in the shop selling me a shoe that felt great (New Balance Hierro Foam) but with a 12 mm drop.

The drop difference wasn't mentioned at all although I took both my old running shoes to the shop,

Wearing the New Balance for a year, I could feel me being ‘afforded’ to heel strike more than usual, especially when tired.

So I think with acquiring the Altras, I was coming home to low drops again.

And that feels really comfortable (although the 12 drops did as well! 😏)

But as I am a very slow runner (with weight issues), and using the Japanese slow jogging technique, I naturally do forefoot running.

So I'm now exploring what this all means for walking. Fascinating how little most of us know about such a common movement.

MrNiceGuy profile image
MrNiceGuy in reply to CBDB

After the adoption of Japanese slow running, since such a technique encourages the foot to land directly in line with the torso as weight is transferred between supporting limbs, you're right in stating that there isn't a period of double float.

However, you're still running - despite continuing to shuffle down the street.

Without placing too fine a point upon such, if walking upon hard/flat/stable surfaces, maintain a heel strike. If running (however slow), attempt to strike first with the 5MTP and allow the foot to roll inwards, concentrating upon picking/lifting foot up from the hip, rather than pushing off during the toe-off phase of the running gait cycle.

Interloper from the Couch to 5K, Bridge to 10K and Marathon forums here.

I've been exclusively wearing zero drop minimalist shoes (Vibram FiveFingers) for ten years now. I only ever walked in them until two years ago when I took up running.

I had to relearn how to walk when transitioning to wearing them. Heel striking would bruise my foot.

My natural walking gait nowadays is midfoot and occasionally forefoot. My running gait is definitely forefoot. I can also (and have) run barefoot.

It has helped my posture. And the counter-intuitive thing is that I have a tendency to flat feet (via hypermobility).

I find normal shoes (with any heel drop or internal support or cushioning) very uncomfortable to wear nowadays.

CBDB profile image
CBDBAdministrator in reply to nowster

Hello!!! So glad to see you here! I know you’ve got substantial experience in this area, so huge thanks for popping over here. 🧡👍🏽🙏

You know, I did get a pair of minimalist entry (low cost) shoes and have been wearing them indoors, and they’re particularly good for rowing.

But maybe it’s time to do a little walk in them, out there in the wild and uneven world of trails!

nowster profile image
nowster in reply to CBDB

Walking outside: it depends on how much protection they give your feet. It can be quite unpleasant to walk on an uneven surface (eg. gravel) if you're not used to it.

CBDB profile image
CBDBAdministrator in reply to nowster

😳😳😳… I know (or don’t actually)… but just the thought is scary…😅👍🏽

nowster profile image
nowster in reply to CBDB

You'll never know unless you try it. 🤪

Oldfloss profile image
Oldfloss in reply to nowster

Not an interloper at all... we all should be visiting here regularly! ( Many, many of us are).

There is SO much incredible and really useful information here, on SO many things, compiled and linked by our INCREDIBLE CBDB !

CBDB profile image
CBDBAdministrator in reply to Oldfloss

☺️😊☺️ haha, those capital letters make me blush... 😘

Oldfloss profile image
Oldfloss in reply to CBDB

They shouldn't. You do a terrific job here, I am always directing folk here and I use so much of the information here, even from past posts and links!

Hi I think I am on heel but the pad of the heel not the edge like Joanna hall walkactive. I still wear my brooks ghost 13 heel drop is 12 m which isn’t ideal but have googled and they say in reviews good for walking , they are flexible in toe areas. I am thinking of getting altra torin 4 low drop but still on the thinking stage. My other altras are more for trail like your ones. Have u tried your on walking your lone peak? I watched your YouTube videos and other ones you watch are all different. I am trying the walkactive one I dont think I could wear the really minimalist shoes and feel every stone. I suffer from nerve problems in feet and arthritis so comfort comes into a lot for me.

CBDB profile image
CBDBAdministrator in reply to Doris8

Yes, I’ve had both my 0-drop Altras and my 12-drop New Balance on my walks, and honestly, I notice more of a difference when I’m running rather than when I’m walking. In both i heel strike. Something to ponder about.

I have a pair of merrell bare access 3 minimalist but I think they are too minimalist. I tried today walking a 2 km in them before polling station opened but back was hurting , not cushioned enough. They are 0:drop and 13mm forefoot and heel height. Had them for a few years and still trying to get them into feet. Think I will be sticking to a more cushioned especially when I have been wearing my brooks and no backache. Mr D watched me walking and he said I walk on midfoot . Will have to keep trying midfoot. Hope u work it out too. 🙂

CBDB profile image
CBDBAdministrator in reply to Doris8

Yeah, I used the walk intervals again from my c25k run-walks today, to explore forefoot-strike walking. So I was wearing the Altra zero drops.

And I do notice it’s easier when doing high pace, small steps. With longer steps one has to tend to point your toes a bit more, but I could feel both my quads and hamstrings and glutes working more than when heel-striking.

I haven’t tried my minimalist shoes yet, so at the moment plenty of cushioning in both Altras and New Balance.

I think I would have to do a Couch25k for forefoot-strike walking to get my body used to this kind of walking.

Interesting 🤔!

As one who has lived the barefoot lifestyle for many years, also running barefoot, what needs to be taken into consideration are the surfaces we routinely interact with as humans in the 21st Century.

Since the vast majority of urban settings are both flat and stable, there is simply no need to adopt a midfoot landing when walking...unless you wish to march down the street.

Regardless of footwear choice, without addressing weakness and tightness of lower limb muscles, the aim should always be to land softly on the centre and not the posterior/rear portion of the heel when walking, therefore, reducing degree of dorsiflexion at the ankle joint and angle of extension through the knee joint at initial contact, to ensure that remainder of the foot doesn't slap the floor as it moves through the gait cycle towards toe-off.

Furthermore, neither video addresses the biomechanical differences between walking and running gait, with both failing to discuss how walking possesses two periods of double support and running two periods of double float, alongside the 60/40 split between walking and running throughout the respective gait cycles.

Moreover, the first video talks about the medial longitudinal arch acting as the foot's windlass mechanism to aid propulsion. To a degree, the MLA does play a role. However, the windlass mechanism is chiefly created by the plantar fascia, with its attachment to the 1st MTP winding up around it, thus, enabling the midfoot to act a rigid lever, as the heel leaves the ground and foot prepares to toe-off.

By all means, when clambering through undergrowth, lead with and use the toes to grip branches and utilise the forefoot to maintain balance upon less stable and unpredictable surfaces (that's why both continue to exist). In an urban jungle, however, simply focus upon landing upon the centre of the heel and rolling through the foot when walking, ensuring that most of one's body weight is transferred through the centre of the 1st MTP and that lesser toes splay (not claw) as the supporting foot moves between stance and toe-off.

In reply to your questions:

1). As a bare footer, I still maintain a heel-strike when walking (as body weight is simply transferred between supporting limbs).

2). Yes. I adopt and will not depart from a heel-strike when walking upon flat, stable surfaces.

3). I wear minimalist shoes when I cannot venture barefoot.

4). My response to Q.4 is answered above.

CBDB profile image
CBDBAdministrator in reply to MrNiceGuy

Thank you so much for responding. It’s great to see quite a few barefoot runners/walkers here sharing their experiences.

And your insights are particularly fascinating and insightful.

I’m pretty much at the very beginning of dipping my toes into this area, having just moved over to zero-drop but cushioned shoes (Altra Lone Peak) but also having a pair of minimalist shoes (saguaro) that I haven’t ventured outside with yet, as I use them mainly now for indoor rowing. They’re certainly perfect for that.

The one aspect I did not quite understand is that of the differences between walking and running gait and 2 periods of double support vs 2 periods of double float. And how the 60/40 split fits into this.

I’m not sure I fully understand what this means for people who use the Japanese Slow Running Technique, which feels like it's using less of a floating phase (if I understand that right).

I did wonder in the first video when talking about walking, comes very close to what others would class Japanese slow jogging.

And this might be confusing when trying to keep the concepts of walking, jogging and running apart, when in reality, it might be movements that have overlapping characteristics.

But I’m not sure about that.

Again, thank you so much for replying and sharing.

MrNiceGuy profile image
MrNiceGuy in reply to CBDB

No worries. Although no doubt very much in the minority, it would appear that a few regular barefoot walkers and runners do indeed exist on the forum. Glad to hear that you appreciate our insights too.

After recently investing in pairs of both cushioned zero drop and minimalist footwear, you probably have many questions. However, try not to become too excited by the hype surrounding minimalist footwear, despite the fact the industry has enjoyed something of a renaissance in recent years.

Even with a gradual transition out of conventional running footwear, unlike barefoot running, which instinctively encourages adoption of a forefoot strike pattern, thus, utilising shock absorption abilities of the mid-foot during the stance phase (pronation isn't necessarily a bad thing), there's no guarantee that switching to minimalist footwear will automatically result in the adoption of a midfoot landing, with existing biomechanical running efficiency playing a large role in the length of transition.

For some, unlike barefoot running (which many do find easier and more natural), running in minimalist footwear will always remain a step too far...which is where cushioned zero-drop footwear, such as Altra can assist. Additionally, despite high levels of cushioning, if a lower gradient between heel and toes is sought, Hoka, with its 5mm drop, ought to be considered, alongside Nike Free for runs up to 5K.

As for the differences and similarities between walking and running, the only thing they share in common is that both are characterised by a stance phase following initial contact, as the body's centre of mass moves like an inverted pendulum over the supporting limb between initial contact and toe off.

During the walking gait cycle, 60% is spent in stance phase and 40% in swing phase, with periods of double support occurring either side of the stance phase. By contrast, 40% of running gait cycle is spent in stance and 60% in swing, with periods of double float occurring at the start and end of the swing phase.

Moreover, since running invariably occurs at a higher speed than walking, GRF remains far greater at initial contact as displaced centre of gravity/mass is falling from a greater height, resulting in greater knee flexion and ankle dorsiflexion during the stance (shock absorption) phase, while also resulting in increased joint velocity (the speed at which they move between flexion and extension) between initial contact and toe-off of the supporting limb.

Despite disagreeing with much in the two videos, as a bare footer, I do see certain points that the first video attempted to put across. However, as one who loves to walk barefoot upon a bed of softened pine needles as much as I do centuries old rustic stone (the Shambles in York is a must for all bare footers), foot strike pattern is largely dictated by the environment in which the feet find themselves.

For example, in the forest, I'd never lead with a heel strike upon exposed tree roots as surface area of the heel is too small and calcaneus too rigid. Furthermore, walking through the undergrowth is rarely ever linear, so I would always lead with my forefoot, using my toes to grip exposed roots to maintain balance.

In the city, however, since terrain is flat and stable, there's simply no need to adopt a forefoot strike pattern when walking...unless you really wish to present as someone marching down the street (and those types always have always drawn glances of bewilderment and silent questions of 'WTF is he doing?' from by-passers) 🤣.

Ultimately, since ideas surrounding what constitutes natural movement therapy has shifted considerably in recent years, the guy in video 1 is attempting to over-complicate a simple, everyday activity (without understanding) in order to justify his place and following on YouTube. As for the grey haired Bob and Brad, other than suggesting that they retire, (while I really do), I also have no other words.

CBDB profile image
CBDBAdministrator in reply to MrNiceGuy

Haha, yes Bob&Brad are a bit of an oddity. But I am thankful for channels that attempt to find a business model where they provide substantial information for free. But I take on board that they are generalists.

And thanks for sending me pointers to alternatives expert practitioners. If I may I will just list the two of these that have some freely available YouTube presence here, for the benefit of the community.

So thanks for the two pointers.

There is

★ ★ Isabelle Brought, UK based soft tissue therapist, with expertise in biomechanics, a oncology massage practitioner and natural mindfulness guide

YouTube Channel: youtube.com/channel/UCrm1uW...

Her Rewild Your Body Blog: createahappybody.weebly.com/

★ ★ Rachel Tyler, UK based qualified Pilates Instructor and Restorative Exercise Specialist

youtube.com/channel/UCdQY6Q...

Thank you again, so much, for the detailed insights.

This is so interesting... but I always feel a tad out of touch over posts like this, and ones about tech and physical issues. heart rate zones etc etc.I just run... and I just walk. I am barefoot all the time at home... in and outside, unless gardening etc...I don't think about it.

My running shoes suit me perfectly. I have a terrific pair of KEEN sandals too which are great for walking in, an I can run in them too if need be. I have no idea of drop etc... and the only issue I have had is when I had to have an orthotic fitted for a short while after I had an injury affecting the Posterior Tibialis .

I need to have a look how I run when I head out tomorrow, just out of interest.

This is fascinating, thank you!

CBDB profile image
CBDBAdministrator in reply to Oldfloss

Yes, hubby and I discussed this morning how we still have our “trendy” outdoorsy sandals from more than 20 years ago! 🩴🤭 In today’s world, they would probably not hold up to what we demand of outdoor-active sandals. (hubby is, just this moment, indignantly defending his sandals after I read this to him! 🤣)

Then I wasn’t even aware there was anything wrong with rigid, narrow-toed, airless, high-heeled shoes. (I should clarify that our sandals didn't have any of those)

I took it as a given for women. (Although I never wore high heels, but thought that was just outdoorsy-me)

Hi CBDB just popping over to join in the conversation. When I was recovering from my broken ankle I had to buy a supportive, cushioned pair of running shoes to walk in, as everything I owned hurt my feet. Like you, I didn't think of heel drop, but it was higher than I'm used to (I've never be been a high heels girl anyway). But the stronger I get, the less I want all that. They seem to encourage me to tense up and heel strike as I walk. (It's the tensing up that bothers me, the heel strike just seems to follow)

I've since bought a pair of walking shoes by Lowa, which are great for muddy trails but a bit too rigid for urban paths - but, they have a much lower drop and I can feel my posture shifting all through my body when I wear them. Took a while to get used to them, but they feel much better for me. I need a low drop pair with a more flexible sole now.

CBDB profile image
CBDBAdministrator in reply to grumpyoldgirl

That is so interesting to read. And as you mention, I think it can also be thought of a running/walking journey where at different stages you might have different shoe needs.

Thank you!

grumpyoldgirl profile image
grumpyoldgirl in reply to CBDB

There are so many interesting replies on here, it's giving me a lot to think about, thanks for starting it!

I am a heel striker when I walk. I wear trainers as a rule just generally. If I jog (rarely) I'm a forefoot strike but I am told I should always heel strike by a friend who runs. Can't do it! It feels so unnatural!

CBDB profile image
CBDBAdministrator in reply to 2stoneup

Yes, I’m the same. I think there is a lot of evidence that forefoot striking when jogging or running is better on the joints, but from what I can gather this is a relatively new thing and many shoes still consider heel striking to be the norm.

My hubby started cross country in his teens and has since then been a heel striker.

But when he tried to change it to forefoot, in the last 2 years, that’s when his issues with his calf muscles began.

So I have a feeling that many trainers suggest if you are a heel striker, unless you are willing to go right back to the basics (c25k), it’s better to stay with your current gate.

But I should note, I’m not an expert.

nowster profile image
nowster in reply to CBDB

Forefoot striking is more efficient too, as it uses the elastic properties of the tendons and muscles to store and return the energy of landing, but it takes its toll on the calf muscles which aren't used to that sort of work. They do adapt, though.

You've got to land with a slightly bent knee, with the foot underneath or slightly behind the body's centre of gravity. It also requires a shorter stride and faster cadence than heel striking.

As you say, it's a case of back to basics to unlearn the habits of a lifetime.

Seeing this post reminded me to the fact that when I was still running, I often tried to land midfoot instead of on my heel. Unfortunately when I was not focusing fully on it, I would quickly slip back to my heel. I did notice that my right foot had a more natural tendency for landing midfoot than my left foot though.

Seeing this post, I tried to focus on it when walking on Saturday. I don't have any low drop shoes or so, I was wearing a pair of Nike Pegasus running shoes, so with lots of heel I guess. And again, I found it not that hard to try midfoot landing with my right foot, but my left foot was a bit more difficult. And of course, when not focusing fully on it, the heel became more prominent again.

But it is interesting, I should try to check how I walk on my treadmill. Because I think on my treadmill I have more of a problem to land midfoot.

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