It is one of the great debates in the fitness community: Is striking the ground heel-first considered bad running form?
Some people seem to think so.
As a former collegiate athlete, my strength and conditioning coaches wanted me to avoid heel strikes and strike with my forefoot to better activate my hamstrings and posterior chain.
However, there is significant data that shows that striking with your heel is not necessarily a bad thing.
So if you are a heel striker, take heart. There are millions of other runners like you who use healthy and productive heel-to-toe strides.
And to help you if this is your running style, we have delved deep and looked at the best running shoes with beneficial features for heel strikers.
The Adidas Solarglide 5, with its beveled heel and Boost foam core, is our top pick. It has all of the characteristics of a shoe specifically designed for heel-to-toe runners.
However, if you are loyal to other brands, we have identified some other strong options that may best suit your needs.
Keep reading to find out everything you need to know about the best running shoes for heel strikers!
Overview – Best Running Shoes for Heel Strikers
- Best Overall – Adidas Solarglide 5
- Best Training Shoe – Saucony Ride 14
- Best Durability – Brooks Ghost 14
- Best Midsole Technology – Asics Glide Ride 2
- Best Value – Reebok Floatride Energy 3
The Best Running Shoes for Heel Strikers Reviewed
Let’s analyze our favorite running shoes for heel strikers.
Best Overall – Adidas Solarglide 5
The Adidas Solarglide 5 has everything you want to see in a running shoe for heel strikers: ample heel stack, impressive 10mm drop, and beveled rearfoot outsole.
While the Boost foam core is cushioned and responsive, it is not overly soft. It has a firm EVA rim supported by a plastic midfoot shank, helping ensure that the cushioning is not too gooey.
Finally, the beveled heel is articulated for increased durability and responsiveness while aiding in transitions.
- BOOST midsole provides premium comfort and energy return
- Beveled heel and raised toe make for premium rocker experience
- Articulated heel promotes durability and energy transfer for heel strikers
- A fairly heavy shoe, so likely only an option for non-competitive situations
- Some runners note that the tongue annoyingly folds over the top of the foot
Best Training Shoe – Saucony Ride 14
For heel strikers looking to log some serious miles, the Saucony Ride 14 definitely fits the bill.
The proprietary PWRRUN midfoot cushioning for which Saucony is well-known gives this shoe the perfect blend of comfort and support, mile after mile.
The FORMFIT upper is newly engineered and modified based on consumer feedback, offering a more sleek and breathable mesh upper than ever before.
It is also a bit more lightweight than other shoes for heel strikers.
- Surprisingly durable in spite of its soft, lightweight feel
- Runs true to size and is friendly to runners with wide feet
- Available in a HUGE array of color schemes
- Heel is not beveled as much as other shoes
- Some runners feel it is a bit stiff and unresponsive
Best Durability – Brooks Ghost 14
If you have heavy heel strikes that wreak havoc on your shoe’s rearfoot, the Brooks Ghost 14 is up to the challenge.
Its segmented crash pad uses a strategic rubber pattern in the heel that absorbs shock and facilitates transitions, giving you a landing that will not fail, no matter how many strides you take.
In addition, the Ghost 14 uses just the right amount of BioMoGo DNA and DNA LOFT technology in the midsole to provide sufficient softness without detracting from durability.
- Many runners get over 500 miles out of these shoes, providing unmatched durability
- Ideal blend of comfort and support keeps this shoe going no matter the type of run
- Plenty of traction on the outsole for running on all types of terrains
- The increased durability comes at the price of some breathability, according to some
- Some runners feel like there is a bit of a break-in period for these shoes
Best Midsole Technology – Asics Glide Ride 2
There is some debate as to whether or not super advanced midsoles actually add value for heel strikers. After all, some super soft midsoles can actually decrease stability and increase the risk of injury as the runner rolls through their stride.
However, the Asics Glide Ride 2 has a midsole that is simply divine for heel strikers.
Equipped with the standard Asics FlyteFoam that provides high-end cushion and shock absorption, the Glide Ride 2 also embeds a Nylon plate (known as GUIDESOLE technology) in the midsole that helps create a rocker-like finish and rolls the runner through each stride. This differs from other brands that use midsole plates to enhance springiness, creating smoother transitions and “easy” miles for heel strikers.
- GUIDESOLE features make for a uniquely easy running experience
- A dual density heel maximizes shock absorption for heel strikers
- Latticed rubber outsole improves traction, durability, and responsiveness
- Built more for easy miles, so likely not ideal for runners who have performance in mind
- The 5mm drop is adequate, but not as strong as some of the other shoes on this list
Best Value – Reebok Floatride Energy 3
If you’re a heel striker and looking to find a new running shoe for less than $100, you could do worse than the Reebok Floatride Energy 3.
While it lacks some of the more advanced midsole technology of other shoes on this list, and the absence of a pronounced beveled heel without a heavily latticed crash area may not be ideal, it does boast some other impressive features.
Its 9mm drop stacks up against some of the more premium options, while its full-length rubber outsole makes it highly durable on all types of terrain.
- Amazing value for the price point
- Full-spanning rubber outsole provides great durability
- Impressive drop and solid cushioning
- Some runners note a lack of padding around the ankle that leads to chafing
- Not an ideal choice for people with wide feet
Buying Guide – Things to Consider When Buying Shoes for Heel Strikers
Despite evolving and improving technology, not all running shoes are a solution for all types of runners. For runners with a pronounced heel strike, there are several key considerations.
Similar to those runners recovering from an achilles tendon injury, heavy heel strikers will want a shoe with significant heel-to-toe drop. There are a couple of reasons for this:
- Shoes with high drop tend to have sizable heel stacks. This extra cushioning in the heel will absorb shock and make for a more comfortable running experience for heel strikers.
- It puts the achilles and calf under less stress by limiting elongation during a typical heel-to-toe stride.
It is generally recommended that heel strikers choose a shoe with at least 5mm of drop to provide the best combination of comfort and functionality through each stride.
Obviously, a high heel stack and ample midsole cushioning in the rearfoot are desirable features for heel strikers.
However, it is about more than cushioning to ensure optimal performance for heel-to-toe runners.
In fact, having an overly soft heel is not an advantage for heel strikers. A marshmallowy heel will come at the expense of stability during heel strikes, putting the runner at risk of injury.
As a result, it is a good idea to try a simple thumb pressure test on the midsole heel stack. If your thumb creates a dimple in the heel stack with minimal pressure, it is probably not a great option for heavy heel strikers, and you will want to look at other options with a more firm EVA midsole formula.
Another thing you want to look out for is cushioning bias in the heel. This occurs when one side of the heel is softer than the other side, which can decrease stability during strides. It is better to choose a shoe that offers a consistently plush heel to maintain a normal stride and decrease the risk of injury during a heel strike.
It is best to avoid sharp heel edges if you are a heel striker. This can cause abrupt, forceful contact with the ground, increasing the impact of each stride.
Instead, look for shoes that have beveled heels. A curved heel will allow the foot to land gradually, lessening impact. It also provides a slightly larger landing surface than a heel with a sharp edge, which further increases stability and reduces the risk of injury.
Design Features of a Good Running Shoe for Heel Strikers
Although there is not necessarily an ideal prototype for heel strikers, the following design features are generally seen as preferable.
It may not seem like the upper matters a whole lot when examining shoe features for heel strikers, but it can be surprisingly important.
As mentioned elsewhere, good features are never a drawback, even if they aren’t of direct benefit to the specific area of concern. So a lightweight, breathable upper with an ample toe box for toe splaying should be given preference over other shoes, all else being equal.
However, it is important to give a little extra attention to the point about toe splaying. As the heel is the first point of contact with the ground for heel strikers, the toes will be naturally elevated (known as distal phalanx extension) a bit more than for forefoot strikers.
Runners with particularly active toes may exaggerate this motion, putting additional pressure on the top of the upper. This may eventually cause holes to form if the upper is not strong enough.
So if you are a heel striker with notable distal phalanx extension, look for reinforced uppers with a little extra stitching to help prevent these holes from forming.
Heel strikers will want an ample amount of midsole cushioning to help absorb shock.
In addition, it is a good idea to look for shoes that have the rocker design.
Rocker style shoes typically feature a thicker midsole, beveled heel, and curled toe. This ensures that the runner doesn’t land on a completely flat surface and provides a smooth transition for “easier” strides. It is an especially beneficial engineering concept for heel strikers because the shoe can help the runner “roll” through each heel-to-toe motion.
The best outsole material for running shoes is usually blown rubber, as it helps improve the traction, responsiveness, and durability of the shoe. For heel strikers, it is especially important to see additional blown rubber strategically placed in the heel area to keep the rearfoot of the shoe from wearing thin.
As mentioned, it is best that the heel be slightly curved–or beveled–to create a safer, softer landing area when striking with the heel. It is also beneficial to consider shoes that have a split rubber outsole in the heel. This split in the “crash area” of the outsole for heel strikers improves flexibility during landing and helps promote more gentle transitions.
A selection of the most common questions regarding heel striking in running.
Is Being a Heel Striker Bad for Runners?
No, being a heel striker is not necessarily bad for runners–although it is a hot question for debate among running professionals.
There is a significant school of thought that striking with the forefoot is the “correct” way to run.
However, there are numerous studies that show for the majority of running purposes–such as when getting in shape, running for recreation, or even competitive running–there is no real disadvantage to being a heel striker.
Are Heel Strikers At Greater Risk of Injury?
No, heel strikers are not at an overall increased risk of injury over forefoot or midfoot strikers.
However, heel striking does tend to lend itself to more overuse and stress-related injuries, such as shin splints, knee pain, and hip discomfort.
On the other hand, heel strikers are likely to be at decreased risk of injuries such as sprained ankles or calf strains when compared to runners who strike with the forefoot.
Are Heel Strikers Slower Runners?
Heel strikers are likely to be at a disadvantage when sprinting. This is because heel strikers do not have as much forward lean as forefoot strikers, and even a few millimeters can make the difference in highly competitive sprints.
In addition, heel strikers do not engage the hamstrings or calves as much as forefoot runners who use more of a sweeping motion with their strides, and activation of the posterior muscle chain is often viewed as essential for short distance speed.
However, the disadvantages of heel striking are much less pronounced when running long distances. Both a forefoot sweeping stride and rearfoot rocking stride are effective for distance runners, so it is more a matter of personal taste and choosing which type of stride gives you the best results with the lowest impact on your body.
How Do I Know If I’m a Heel Striker?
When you have been running a particular way your entire life, you may have no idea whether or not you are a heel striker or not. Your stride just comes natural, and you probably aren’t even conscious of running with a rocking heel-to-toe motion.
If you want to pinpoint your running motion, there are a few ways to find out:
- Have a friend video you running on a treadmill – this is the best way to determine stride style, as you can slow the video down, pause, and really identify how you are striking the belt. However, not everyone has a friend to help.
- Examine your outsoles – if the heel is wearing faster than the forefoot, this is a pretty clear indication that it is taking the brunt of the initial impact.
- Run barefoot in grass – when shedding the running shoes, you are more likely to feel the impact of which part of your foot is hitting the ground first.
Once you have determined your stride, there are a number of exercises, such as high knees, running backwards, and sideways shuffling, that can help you activate your forefoot and change your stride, if that is something in which you are interested.
Final Thoughts: The Best Running Shoes for Heel Strikers
Being a heel striker is not necessarily a bad thing for a runner. You aren’t at a heightened risk of injury, overall, and you probably won’t be any slower on distance runs.
So if you are a heel striker, we have identified the Adidas Solarglide 5 as the top shoe for your stride style.
However, if durability is your top concern, the Brooks Ghost 14 may be the best option, while the Reebok Floatride Energy 3 will likely provide the best bang for your buck.
Whatever your top consideration, use this guide to answer all of your questions about heel striking and find your ideal shoe today!