5 April, 2018

The perfect step for runners

Running and walking are innate and natural gestures, that in the majority of cases we do almost automatically. However, we should pay more attention to our body, particularly in the case of running, where we tread on the ground with more force and frequency. The fact is our stepping technique not only depends on our sporting performance but also on the probabilities of suffering an injury.
It is important to know how runners’ steps function, to be aware in order to know our best way of advancing and learning to improve to achieve the perfect step. In this article we help you.

Stages of the step

They say that when running the foot touches the ground for a quarter of a second. In very little time, the foot carries out three functions that enable us to also differentiate the three main stages of each step:

  • Landing or impact stage: the moment when the foot enters into contact with the ground. The foot pronates naturally to be flexible, mobile, with capacity to adapt to a surface that may be irregular.
  • Absorption or support stage: period in which we have the foot completely in contact with the ground. The foot must be stable and flexible, ready to transform into a rigid lever that begins the take-off position.
  • Impulse or take-off stage: moment in which we undertake the impulse with the front part of the foot and with the toes to advance and enter into the aerial stage. Logically, the more force of impulse we have, greater the performance in the race.

 
From this moment, we enter into what is called the aerial stage, the moment when the two feet are in the air. Therefore concepts such as the width and frequency of the stride are particularly important. We will explain this in a future post.

Types of step

Although every person has a unique step, we can place them in different groups:

  • According to the part of the foot that receives a greater impact:
    • Pronate runners (the most usual): on landing on the ground, the foot produces a greater rotation inwards, supporting the instep and the heel more.
    • Supinate runner (not very common): the foot does not turn inwards, so that the weight falls on the outer part.
    • Neutral runners: on impacting with the ground, the knees stay in line with the leg. Only the movement of natural pronation occurs.
  • According to the part of the foot that receives the first impact:
    • Support with the rearfoot: the initial contact occurs with the heel of back part of the sole of the foot.
    • Support with the middle part of the foot: the heel and metatarsal contact almost simultaneously.
    • Support with the forefoot: done with the front part of the foot, to later support the heel.

 
And now that we know a little more how our feet work, the much awaited moment arrives. The big question: how do we achieve a perfect step?

What is the perfect step like?

From a theoretical point of view, the perfect step is that which reduces the impact received by the body, as well as minimising the braking and at the same time gives us the impulse necessary to advance with the maximum efficiency.

In general terms, the characteristics of a perfect step are:

  • Support with the middle part of the foot: if we make the first contact with the heel we brake (which involves a greater energetic expenditure) and we increase the impact on joints such as knees and hips.
  • Gentle landing: with the knee bent (without tension) and the foot in line with the hip.
  • Silent step: if we hear a strong rattling on each stride we are impacting with excessive force, which increases the risk of injuries.
  • Fast step: the transition between the support and the take-off stage should be very brief, to impulse us with force.
  • Stable step, for which we must work on our ankles so that they are strong and thus avoid injuries in the area.

 
Despite these considerations for a perfect step, we should be aware that every person is unique, with movements and morphological conditions that differentiate them from the others. Our aim is to achieve the perfect step for us, according to our peculiarities and possibilities.

A perfect step for each runner

As we said, there is not a single pattern comparable to all runners and the perfect step is the one that adapts better to the characteristics of each one. In this sense, one of the subjects that cause most controversy are the pros and cons of whether it is the heel or front part of the foot that first enters into contact with the ground.

As an example, we can highlight that in the Olympic trials of 2012, the researcher Iain Hunter recorded and analysed images of the step of the participants. They all achieved brilliant results, were extremely fast, yet each one had their own particular “perfect step”: some hit the ground with their heel, others with the front part, others with the middle part and, moreover, each one had their own degree of pronation.

There are also several studies that have analysed whether what is known as “heeling” increased the risk of injuries to runners. They found results for all tastes. It seems that there is no single “perfect step”. Perhaps it is a study undertaken by researchers in Finland that might shed some light on the debate, suggesting that each step has its pros and cons. So, according to the study “Forefoot Strikers Exhibit Lower Running-Induced Knee Loading than Rearfoot Strikers”, by different authors (*):

  • Runners who first support the heel increase the impact on the knees, which may cause injuries such as patellofemoral pain syndrome.
  • In contrast, runners who impact the ground with the front part of the foot tend to overload the ankle and Achilles heel, which increases the risk of suffering injuries such as shin splints.

 

Conclusion: is there a perfect step?

Does perfection exist or is there something that can always be improved? In running, as in life, we fight to achieve excellence, even though we know that it is a relative concept. This is why it is important to be clear what our needs and priorities are, so that we can define what is the perfect step for us.

We should be aware of how our body works and the impact it receives on running. In this sense, remember that running insoles can help you stabilise the step, prevent injuries and reduce fatigue. We explain this to you in the article “Types of running insoles”.

 

 

(*) Forefoot Strikers Exhibit Lower Running-Induced Knee Loading than Rearfoot Strikers, KULMALA, JUHA-PEKKA; AVELA, JANNE; PASANEN, KATI; PARKKARI, JARI. December 2013
https://journals.lww.com/acsm-msse/fulltext/2013/12000/Forefoot_Strikers_Exhibit_Lower_Running_Induced.12.aspx