For humans, running is nothing new. We’ve been doing it for millions of years.
But the way we run has changed relatively recently with the creation of athletic shoes. Prior to Nikes, Adidas and New Balance, we mostly ran barefoot. And although runners still have several different gaits, scientists believe the most common point of impact was on the forefoot, according to researchers at Harvard University.
The researchers hypothesize that returning to forefoot or midfoot striking could help avoid repetitive stress injuries, such as stress fractures, plantar fasciitis and runner’s knee. A forefoot strike running gait has seven times less impact force than a heel strike, according to Daniel Lieberman, professor of evolutionary biology at Harvard.
Unfortunately, this way of running is now fairly uncommon.
A new study published in the International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance reported that 93.7 percent of the 1,991 runners observed in the 2011 Milwaukee Lakefront Marathon were heelstrikers at the 5-mile mark of the race. By mile 19, that number jumped to 96 percent of runners. Presumably the change occurred as runners became more tired.
Although there was no correlation to gender, there may be a connection to speed. Heel striking was much less common among elite runners.