I started running recreationally about four years ago. I laced up, plugged in and worked up a sweat giving little thought to form or function. This approach to running contrasts to my life as a dancer. Over the years I have been taught to be aware of what every inch of my body is doing and why. I have memories of repeating the same movement over and over until it became second nature. I would never claim to be a perfect dancer, but I do take pride in being an aware dancer. In January I started to share my workout life online via photos on Instagram, this blog and through my ambassadorship with Adidas Running. I’ve continued upon my run-to-feel-good ways until I scrolled upon this sponsored ad of me to the right. Comments read “yikes, that heel strike tho,” and “her hips are gonna be hurting with that stride”. ……GASP….STOP THE PRESSES… WHAT’S A HEEL STRIKE? SEND HELP. I will NOT be the Kendall Jenner of running.
Meet Jessie Zapo (@jessiezapo). Jessie and I met in January at the Adidas PureBOOSTx launch in Santa Monica. Over the span of seven years Jessie has carved a space for women and new runners in the NYC urban running community. Named “the first lady of running,” Jessie created and produced programs for organizations like Bridgerunners, The Black Roses NYC and Girls Run NYC. During a recent trip to New York I was lucky enough to have some one on one sessions with Jessie that opened my eyes and rocked my running world.
My first revelation on form was understanding how it’s systematically inefficient to lead with your heel. I used to think that a longer stride was created by reaching my foot/heel further and further in front of me. My run was low and heavy but my stride was long so I never thought there was a problem.
A stride that leads with your heel (heel strike) involves 4 steps per stride, while a mid foot strike only involves 3:
Heel Strike Stride:
- KNEE LIFTS
- HEEL TO GROUND CONTACT
- MID FOOT CONTACT
- KICK BACK
Mid Foot Strike Stride:
- KNEE LIFTS
- MID FOOT TO GROUNT CONTACT
- KICK BACK
A correct stride is initiated by the knee. The force of your knee lifting into air sends your body upward and propels forward into your next stride. Your foot never reaches in front of the knee that’s lifted- it hits the ground directly underneath.
Jessie sent me this video from Competitor Magazine to help understand this concept.
In dance class I was always taught to jump off the ground heel, ball, toe and land toe, ball, heel to absorb gravity and protect my joints. This is not the case when you run. Though you will naturally run in this sequence, emphasizing the toe ball heel landing will slow you down. Lifting your knee with a flexed foot, positions your foot to land directly on the ball when you put it down underneath you. Your heel will follow.
Before our lessons, my run felt heavy. I put emphasis down/into the ground with every stride. Jesse encouraged me to think of the action as UP. Your foot is pushing off the ground rather than hitting the ground with every stride. Thinking “UP UP UP” immediately made my run lighter and stride longer. More time in the air gave me more time to propel forward and run faster.