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How Well Do You Know Your Foot Strike Pattern?

THE NEXT TIME you’re in the market for a pair of new shoes, you may want to consider seeking out an expert’s opinion to determine the type of shoe that works best for you. A new study published in the Journal of Athletic Training indicates that runners, particularly those who wear minimalist shoes, are not necessarily good at identifying their own foot strike patterns.

While tools like the Runner’s World Best Shoe Awards can be valuable, they only work if you can correctly identify your foot strike pattern. If you are unsure, it’s best to seek out expert advice and avoid buying shoes that could increase your risk of injury.

Researchers studied 60 healthy runners who ran at least 20K per week and had at least six months of experience wearing either traditional or minimalist shoes. For the purpose of the study, minimalist shoes were defined as any shoes that were very flexible, contained minimal supportive features, and had a heel-to-forefoot drop of four millimeters or less.

More than 90 percent of the runners in the study who wore traditional shoes correctly identified their foot strike pattern. (All were heel strikers.) Among the study participants who wore minimalist shoes, only 57.5 percent correctly identified their foot strike pattern.

In an interesting side note, 28 percent of the runners who initially runners initially volunteered for the study (25 out of 89), were excluded because they described themselves as Chi or Pose runners. The research team analysed them in a separate study, because they did not want these runners’ conscious alteration of their running form to be a confounding variable.

The runners who met the criteria for inclusion in the study were asked to classify themselves as either anterior foot strikers (anyone who did not heel strike) or rear foot strikers. Researchers then analysed each participant as he or she ran on a treadmill for five minutes and determined each participant’s actual foot strike pattern.

The runners who wore traditional shoes correctly classified themselves as heel strikers most of the time. However, the 40 runners who wore minimalist shoes tended to think they were anterior-foot strikers, but 17 of them, 42.5 percent, were wrong, which, researchers wrote, put them “at risk for potentially injurious rates of ground reaction force loading.”

This study supported prior research indicating that runners who wear minimalist shoes do not automatically transition to an anterior foot strike pattern.

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