A lot! Some folks have read articles about how heel striking is bad for you so they don’t let their heels touch the ground when the run. Bad news bears! And it’s making the pendulum swing way too far the other way, in my humble opinion.
Truth be told, I was one of those people when I started on my ChiRunning journey. I was so afraid to heel strike that I wouldn’t even let my heel touch the groumnd. It made for a great calf workout but they would also seize every time I did more than 10k.
Your calf muscles aren’t really meant to absorb the bulk of the shock and carry all of your weight. They’re small muscles in the grand scheme of things. You don’t see the world class marathoners with big calves, do you? They barely use their lower legs, instead relying on lean and momentum to carry them forward.
I see these people a lot more these days (I’m looking at you CrossFitters!) simply overcompensating and becoming a forefoot striker. That’s better than heel striking but not much. Still way too much stress on the lower leg muscles.
To break it down, it’s best to land on three points (see diagram) when running, with the weight distributed almost evenly between them. This will make sure you can use the maximum amount of shock absorption the foot can offer and minimize the muscle usage in the foot and lower leg.
Injuries do happen to folks making the transition from heel striking to minimalist/ChiRunning but it’s usually because people are trying way too hard or doing way too much. Too much too soon is a big culprit. So take your time. What’s the hurry anyway?
It’s very hard to heel strike at a high cadence (85-90 foot strikes per foot per minute). So just relaxing the legs completely and concentrating on the cadence with the arm swing is a great way to get rid of tension and pain in the lower legs. If you remember anything from grade school, your legs will always try to keep up with what your arms are doing. We’re all connected.
On that note, just try to be aware of what you’re doing with your heel and have an awesome weekend!