If you’ve been injured for a long time, you may have thought about changing your foot strike (how and where your foot strikes the ground when you run), in attempt to protect those areas that are causing you grief. Or, if you’re looking to get faster, you may want to change your technique to improve your efficiency. And, in theory, both are great ideas, since studies have linked running technique with both injury risk and performance.
However, if you’re going to change your technique (technique being the key word), you’ve got to do so properly – and with caution – or you might end up worse off…
Separating your foot strike from your overall running style can be problematic, warns chartered physiotherapist Terry Smith, who has worked in the industry for over a decade and currently works for the British Military as Lead Civilian Physiotherapist at DMRC Headley Court. “It’s not a good idea to separate running style into body parts or even phases like swing phase or foot strike,” he says. Those phases are just labels we give different parts of the running cycle to help us understand it better. The reality is that your body is one interconnected organism and your running technique is a flowing, organic movement, whereby each moment is the result of what happened in the previous movement.
“If I wanted to change [my athlete’s] foot strike then I would adjust something else in their running technique that would automatically lead to a change in foot strike, rather than getting my athlete to specifically think about where to place their foot.” Smith also says that, when changing technique, the type of shoes you wear is not important. “You can run with good technique in any shoe.”
To change or adjust part of your technique, recruiting a coach will ensure you do so properly and safely. “You may change your foot strike and find it helps your injuries and improves your performance,” says Smith. “The real danger is it might not and, instead, lead you down the injury avenue. The reality is that, without guidance, the result of your experiment will be a matter of luck rather than judgement. My advice would be to find a coach or health professional that specialises in running and do your research on them! If you like what you see then strike up a relationship with them and follow their advice.”
However, unless you have good reason to change your running style, it may be best left alone. “I would very openly say that, if you’re not injured and you are running well, I would not touch your running technique at all,” says Smith. “In that case, I would concentrate on consistent training, which is where the magic happens.”
However, if you’re struggling to rid yourself of injury or your performance is really suffering, changing your technique can indeed be beneficial – provided you get the right guidance. “Not all coaches and health professionals are created equal,” says Smith. “Find someone that specialises in running and see if they know what they are talking about. Get a sense of what they are like and whether their style is right for you. I think if you want to be good in any area of life, having a coach or a mentor to learn from and bounce ideas off is vital.”
For more physio and coaching advice from Terry Smith, visit londonrunningpt.com.