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I know that, while running, humans aren't designed to land heel-first, and should, instead, land on the balls of their feet. I've tried this while walking, but it is much more difficult to do, and I'm not sure it even helps anything.

Is it ok to heel-strike while walking? Is it advisable one way or the other?

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That depends on whether you're wearing shoes or not –  Ivo Flipse Apr 19 '12 at 7:24
    
@IvoFlipse I disagree. You certainly ought to walk more daintily when barefoot on a hard surface, but I think the anthropological evidence suggests that heel-first walking is most natural. –  Muhd Apr 19 '12 at 7:31
    
@Muhd I'm not disagreeing with you, but if you don't wear shoes, landing on your heels can be painful, though that might not happen until walking at higher velocities. But with shoes on it most certainly doesn't hurt, unless your feet are pathological (like a heel spur) –  Ivo Flipse Apr 19 '12 at 7:36

2 Answers 2

up vote 8 down vote accepted

When walking, it is recommended that you gently place your foot on the ground heel first with your knee just slightly bent.

Some people have actually devoted time to observing the form and posture of individuals from cultures where traditional, natural posture and movement are still intact. Individuals from these cultures very rarely experience back or joint pain. If you are interested in learning how to stand, sit, lie down, bend over, or walk properly I highly recommend the book 8 Steps to a Pain-Free Back: Natural Posture Solutions for Pain in the Back, Neck, Shoulder, Hip, Knee, and Foot (you can learn how to sit and stand correctly from the author herself in this video)

Here is a quick summary of how to take a step correctly (see the book for more information and diagrams/pictures):

  1. Stand correctly (weight on heels, knees slightly bent, pelvis anteverted, back straight and not curved, except curving back slightly toward the bottom to let your buttocks stick out a little)
  2. Shift your weight onto left leg
  3. Simultaneously: a. Bend right knee, hinge at hip, let right leg relax b. Begin to straighten left leg, tighten left buttock, press heel into ground
  4. Extend right leg forward; increasingly straighten left leg and tighten left buttock
  5. Push off strongly with left foot; further straighten left leg, tighten left buttock, press left heel into the ground
  6. Gently place right foot on the ground, heel first, knee slightly bent
  7. Relax left leg.

Admittedly, that can be hard to understand without pictures... you should end up having your buttock muscles doing most of the work; your quads should be hardly involved at all.

The book also notes that it is correct to walk in a line... that is if you are walking on a line in the sidewalk the inner edge of your heels should be touching the line. Your feet should point just the slightest bit outward.

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More detail than I was expecting. This is great, thanks. –  AlbeyAmakiir Apr 22 '12 at 22:09

I think a key indicator is "Does it hurt when I do this?"

If you heel strike while running barefoot, it hurts.

Heel striking while walking barefoot, however, in most cases or terrain types doesn't hurt, and is much more comfortable than trying to forefoot strike.

Especially if you're wearing shoes, it takes some effort to land forefoot first while walking, since our center of gravity is generally well back from where our feet hit the ground.

Another idea is to watch babies/young children walking. Instinctively or mechanically, when they take their first steps they tend to land forefoot first (or mid foot) as they are quite tentative and keep their center of balance over where their foot hits the ground. But as they grow accustomed to walking and learn to take longer strides they transition to more of a heel strike.

I don't think there is much research on foot strike while walking, since there is significantly less force involved.

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