In an earlier topic, I discussed pronation, overpronation, and supination. Pronation is, in and of itself, a good thing. Without some level of pronation, your body would be unable to cushion itself, and you're at increased risk for stress related injuries, such as stress fractures and stress reactions. However, too much of a good thing is no longer good, and overpronation results in your foot not being able to form a rigid lever for push-off, decreasing efficiency and increasing your risk for torsion injuries. This rule holds true no matter how your foot lands on the ground. A forefoot or midfoot striker should still have some degree of pronation in order to cushion their landing, and like heelstrikers, many still have problems with overpronation or underpronation.
The same treadmill gait analysis that would be done for a heelstriker can and should be done for a midfoot or forefoot striker, though once their pronation level is determined, their needs will differ slightly from a heelstriker's. For example, a supinating heelstriker really benefits from a heel cushion, whereas a supinating forefoot striker would need more cushioning up front. Similarly, a firm heel counter will still help a forefoot striker's calcaneus from rotating medially, but probably not quite as much as it would stop a heelstriker's calcaneus, so an overpronating forefoot striker may need a different type of stability (medial post, arch support, etc...depends on what works best with your footstrike). On the other hand, a heelstriker may be overpronating before a medial post too close to the forefoot can help, and may benefit from a firm heel counter and a plastic piece in the arch. Since a midfoot or forefoot striker's foot mechanics are a little different, different stability and cushioning mechanisms will react to their stride differently than a heelstriker's, so a shoe that controls a heelstriker's pronation might not control a midfoot striker or forefoot striker's, and vice versa. The easiest way to actually determine which type of stability or cushioning works best for you is to try on different shoes and see how each one reacts to your stride.
To give you an example of what I'm talking about, let's look at the Brooks T7. I've worn ultralight flats like the Adizero PR and Asics Piranha, but they also tend to work best when I'm moving at half-marathon pace or faster (when I'm actually midfoot striking, and don't really care about rearfoot cushion). At marathon pace and slower, I'm a heelstriker, and the T7 has a rearfoot Hydroflow unit. That probably does nothing for a forefoot striker, and only slightly more for a midfoot striker, but wow, is that thing awesome for heelstrikers. While it does lift the heel higher (12mm heel-toe differential), it adds a lot of heel cushion for a shoe of its weight. If Brooks were to take that out so they could decrease the 12mm drop to 4mm...I'd be really upset and would probably need to go find a new pair of flats. That's not to say that the T7 is a terrible choice for midfoot strikers, but that rearfoot Hydroflow unit is really Brooks' gift to heelstrikers.
|Seriously, I love this shoe. Please, Brooks, don't change it.|
Another thing to keep in mind that it's not three single footstrikes: heel, midfoot, and forefoot. You can be a forefoot striker who strikes further back and is almost a midfoot striker, a forefoot striker who pretty much runs on their toes, a heelstriker who grazes the ground with their heel and weight bears the same way as a midfoot striker (proprioceptive heel strike), a heelstriker who weight bears on their heel (which is unfortunately usually caused by overstriding, and may be the one time I'd actually recommend messing with your footstrike), etc. Additionally, many heelstrikers turn into midfoot strikers at faster speeds, and most people turn into forefoot strikers when sprinting! So it's impossible to say that "this shoe will work for forefoot strikers, this shoe will work for midfoot strikers, and this shoe will work for heel strikers," since there's so much overlap!
A trend that I find very interesting is the one that's putting a lot of midfoot and forefoot strikers (natural and unnatural) in shoes with low heel-toe differential. First of all, it's very possible to midfoot or forefoot strike in shoes with a high heel-toe differential. You don't need to go zero drop to midfoot strike. All of this is dependent on the amount of dorsiflexion you have upon landing, as well as where, exactly, your foot is landing in relation to your body (and the angle of your lower leg), which is related to that whole dorsiflexion thing). Something that I do think is important to note, however, is that different muscles are being emphasized with different footstrikes. A midfoot or forefoot striker actually puts more stress on their lower legs than a heelstriker, particularly the eccentric load upon landing. Conversely, heelstrikers tend to use their upper leg and gluteal muscles more than midfoot and forefoot strikers. This isn't a bad thing, since everyone uses different muscles to different extents. Your natural stride, whatever that may be, most likely favors your stronger muscles anyway, since those were the muscles that you have developed and with which you naturally run efficiently. However, if you're trying to change your stride, it is something to be aware of, since you'll be using muscles that are not accustomed to the new stresses. That means that a natural heelstriker who is trying to force themselves into a midfoot strike and a shoe with a lower heel-toe differential is hitting their calves with the double whammy. I'm not going to tell you not to play with your stride (just make sure you're doing it for the right reasons), but please be careful with the transition and understand that you will be stressing your lower legs far more than they are used to being stressed.