Olympic sprinter Usain Bolt never lets his heels touch the ground during a race.
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Short-distance runners most often use a forefoot strike to achieve the maximum amount of propulsion during a sprint. Olympic sprinter Usain Bolt makes use of a forefoot strike because the foot is held rigid, transferring more force into propulsion. Foot placement is equally important for a sprinter, since over-striding can lead to excessive braking, which reduces a sprinter's efficiency and speed.
Go On Strike
Foot strike is often a matter of personal preference for runners, but heel strike is by and large the most prevalent foot strike for runners. According to a study conducted by the "International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance," 94 percent of marathon runners strike with their heels instead of their forefoot. Most runners, at the very least, allow the heel to touch or "kiss" the ground during a midfoot strike. Sprinters are unique in their complete focus on the forefoot at the top levels of competition - like the Olympics -because this alternate foot strike better utilizes the strength in the calf for propulsion.
Stay On Your Toes
The switch from heel strike to forefoot running in sprinters takes advantage of the body's natural mechanics. A forefoot strike utilizes the supinating portion of the foot along the outer edge, which is firm and solid. This outer edge keeps the foot rigid during a forefoot strike, converting more of the energy from your foot and calf muscles into propulsion to increase your speed. A forefoot strike can be used by a distance runner, but it's most effective for short distances.
Stay in the Landing Zone
Your foot placement in relation to your hips is just as important as the portion of the foot that you land on. Instead of extending with each stride - which naturally leads to heel strikes - try to keep your feet close to your body even at the most extended section of the stride. Landing with your feet directly underneath your body prevents too much extension of your hip during a forefoot strike, a mistake which can actually reduce your running efficiency.
Change Your Stride
Switching from a heel strike to a forefoot strike can be advantageous for a sprinter, but your form and foot placement should take priority. According to Peter Larson, a biology professor at Saint Anselm College in Manchester, N.H, a runner's obsession with foot strike may be misplaced. He recommends focusing on a shorter stride length to align your feet and body, and says your foot strike will adapt automatically, even if you don't switch completely to forefoot running.