I recently detailed my impressions and recommendations for the “general” foot strike options runners have. I purposely left off this newly created mid-foot strike. I left it off because it doesn’t really exist. You’ll see it listed all over the place in recommendations as the best way to run, but that’s gonna be difficult to do because you just can’t do it. You might be wondering why it’s become such a popular recommendation when it’s not real, and that’s a fair question. The problem is that it’s a misinterpretation of foot motion and structure. I’ll explain.
The foot has a specific shape to it that nearly every foot on the planet has. There are toes at the front, a system of muscles and connective tissue commonly called the arch, and the heel. When the foot is placed flat on the ground the ball of the foot and toes are touching down. The heel is touching the ground as well. This next part is tricky, but the mid-foot or arch usually isn’t. Yes some of you have flat feet so your arch has collapsed or is just flatter than other people’s, and that is ok. My point still works.
Given the general idea that the entire foot isn’t always in contact with the ground, I’ll explain why. When you flex your bicep, the elbow bends, bringing the wrist towards the shoulder which causes the biceps muscles to contract and bulge outward. A similar action happens in the foot. When you bring the toes back/under toward the heel and the arch contracts, raising it up toward the top of the foot. That means the arch moves away from the ground. When the toes are released, the arch stretches, gaining tension that keeps it from dropping down. At best it is usually flat, but never does the arch stick out or down towards the ground. That simple point of anatomy is why the mid-foot landing doesn’t exist.
The arch and the mid-foot are the same thing. Since the arch doesn’t stick out or point down toward the ground it cannot make ground contact first. The toes, ball of the foot, and heel can all strike or make contact on their own and then transfer weight and contact to other areas of the foot, but the mid-foot cannot perform this action.
You might say that this is possible in shoes, and I will disagree for the following reason. The average running shoe has what we call a heel to toe transition. This means that when the bottom of the shoe is flat on the ground the heel is elevated and the ball of the foot is pointed downward. That means when you put the shoe down flat on the ground the ball of the foot is accepting body weight first so the mid-foot is not landing first. In a minimal or zero-drop shoe you can put the shoe down flat and the foot flat inside it, so does that create a mid-foot landing? Nope. The heel and ball of the foot will make contact before the mid-foot can contract and release to a point where it would touch the ground.
So what are people trying to say when they say to land on your mid-foot? That’s a good question, and the general idea is that they are recommending you either land on the forefoot or at least shoot for a flat foot landing. Both of these will put you in a position where your foot is landing under a bent knee that is either under or closer to the body’s center of mass. This form has been deemed the safest and most likely to be done without injury, and that is why they are recommending it. It’s not a bad recommendation, and in fact I endorse it. The problem is that if you go out to run thinking you’re gonna land on your mid-foot you are essentially on a fool’s errand, and it can cause problems if you keep forcing your foot to try and make ground contact in a weird and unnatural way.
I’ll end by saying there is one exception to my rule and that is the Skechers Go Run. This shoe allows a runner to make a mid-foot landing because they have fabricated the sole in a way that allows the mid-foot to make first contact. The rocker shape of the sole gives the arch area the ability to feel contact first if you put the foot down flat so it is in fact a mid-foot strike, but it’s manufactured, and you pretty much have to be running in their shoe or something with a similar sole shape.
The great and mythical mid-foot landing doesn’t exist and you should stop trying to force yourself to have one unless you’re rocking some Skechers. I even read a recent Runner’s World article about form, and a study yielded zero mid-foot strikers. That prompted the writer to say that this form can be thrown out the window because it doesn’t exist, and I agree.
These images were stolen/borrowed from a post by Dr. James Stoxen on the Barefoot Runners Society. I re-illustrated them to show my points in this article.