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Step One to the Secret Formula to healthy and faster running

Have you ever seen a race photo and wondered if that is really what your running gait looks like? Chances are…no, that is not what your running gait looks like!. Running is a highly skilled activity, and not something we are born knowing how to do. Our running gait (AKA running form) does not have to be perfect, but it is a skilled activity that each runner can know and improve their running gait to boost running performance and assist in injury prevention.




In this article we want to show you why every runner should get a gait analysis by explaining what the benefits are, identifying what things can be measured, and explaining how this can be incorporated into run training programs. (data and science geeks, you may want to skip down to how we break down the gait cycle and check out our systematic gait analysis approach).


benefits of running gait analysis

If you can reduce the stress of every step while running by 10%, you can run twice as far before your body breaks down! Considering that injuries and lack of consistency with formal run training are big limiters to performance, this is a huge deal.

Reducing stress by 10% is easy to do, and that is why everyone, from recreational runners to elites, can benefit from understanding their unique running gait. If you think about running, it is one of the only sports people do not practice. All runners do is train (excluding most sprinters and fellow running nerds like myself). It would be the equivalent of a basketball practice, only consisting of five-on-five scrimmages with some sprints at the end. Let me convince you why you should know and practice your running style.

Running with better form can offer various benefits, from making running more enjoyable to reducing risk of injuries. Running with better form can offer various benefits, from making running more enjoyable to reducing the risk of injuries. Changing running form can even address specific injuries, such as knee pain. Over many years of working with all levels of runners, here are some of the main benefits my athletes have expressed:

  • Reduced pain and fatigue while running

  • Increased speed with reduced effort

  • Higher mileage on shoes before they break down (financial health!)

  • Learning the correct type of shoes for you (more on this below)

  • Understanding how your flexibility and strength impact your running gait

running economy

In addition to the numerous benefits above, I want to introduce the concept of running economy. Running economy is similar to miles per gallon in your car. How much energy do you need to put in to get speed out.

Many people have heard about VO2 max and assume that this is the primary determinant of running performance. In fact, running economy can explain the variance between runners of similar abilities.


So, how does this relate to your running form? Your running biomechanics are one of the factors that determine how efficient runners are. Strength is another big factor, and I would love to chat with you about how I urge runners to add strength training to their weekly routine. The point with bringing up running economy is that most runners think they only need to check out their running gait when they are injured. However, I have worked with hundreds of active runners at all levels of fitness and experience, and have seen notable  performance by improving  their running form. Stop wasting energy and become an efficient runner!


what is part of a gait analysis?

At a basic level, a gait analysis will look at how a runner moves throughout the running gait cycle. The two main phases of running are stance phase (foot is on the ground) and swing phase (foot is off the ground). We can further break down the running gait cycle into initial contact (when the foot hits the ground), mid-stance phase (when the foot is ~halfway through stance phase) and terminal stance phase (sometimes called toe off or take off).


Biomechanics

Examples of biomechanical measurements can include knee flexion or hip rotation throughout the various phases of the running gait cycle. Examining these motions to see how it is influenced through simple changes or looking for asymmetries can offer valuable information.

Many of the biomechanics are measured during the stance phase, but there is valuable insight from swing phase mechanics as well. Most people will be familiar with their foot strike position (i.e. heel striking or forefoot), but foot strike is only a small portion of what can be measured.


The upper body can be measured, but there is less normative data for upper body mechanics and receives less attention. That does not mean arm swing is not important, but it does mean we often look at the lower body first.


kinetics

Kinetics is a term used in research settings to identify the forces acting on the body. Ground reaction forces are measured while the foot is in contact with the ground. Many researchers look at forces at initial contact, but it is valuable to look throughout the complete gait cycle. I use an objective standard for measurement via a Stryd footpod that directly measures and reports the ground contact forces and data to a mobile phone for live feedback and monitoring. It’s a moderately expensive fitness sensor that provides valuable data to validate the influence of changes in a runner’s gait in perspective to their economy of movement. 


There has been less emphasis on forces in the running research recently. Although I would gladly take a force plate treadmill if someone gave me one, I do believe that the data can lack guidance on what is causing forces and still need kinematic data along with it to make a decision on changing running form. So we use video recording and look at every phase of your gait cycle to narrow in on how to best support your posture and produce the best return on your effort. 


temporospatial

A fancy word for something that you might look at for every run! Many wearable devices now offer great data on each run. Research has validated some of these numbers, including cadence (number of foot strikes in a minute), vertical oscillation (up and down motion), ground contact time (the time one foot is in contact with the ground)

You can use this data to get you started and observe your trends. If you change your form, these measures can be a reliable way to see if you are making changes or if you change form as you fatigue.


pressures

More often these days, you will see pressure treadmills and 3D mapping of the foot. This can be helpful to identify differences in the left leg and right leg, but similar to forces it does not give much insight into why.

Often you will see pressure sensors when deciding on shoes. These sensors may help to identify pronation and supination during the running gait cycle, but that is only a small piece of the puzzle. 



Using running gait data

I believe that one of the reasons that few runners actually get a gait analysis is because they have never really been told what to do after. At best, a gait analysis may have helped you pick out your shoes. You may have also gotten insight into why you had a running injury. Either way, you probably were not told much about how to change your run form.

My mission with the Stride Mastery Session is to find the formula to faster and healthy running, which is why I strongly believe that every runner should get a gait analysis. At the end of each session, runners are given detailed instructions based on their personal movement patterns.




A Stride Mastery Session starts with a Runner Readiness Assessment to identify flexibility and strength deficits. Running form is a big part of healthier and faster running, but runners need more. Limitations in flexibility or strength may determine what types of cues or training plan you can do to maximize results.


After the Runner Readiness Assessment, athletes do a gait analysis and are identified into a gait category with a custom program to develop greater balance and coordinated movements. Each category’s program consists of a gait retraining program with walk/run and graded feedback. Adapting to the new form with a gradual approach has been shown to produce better results that last.


Finally, the results and programs are put into a personal training profile via TrainingPeaks where you get detailed instructions on exactly what you need to do. There are even videos to explain drills and exercises. You can sync your wearable to get accurate training load data, showing you how to avoid common mistakes in your run training.


P.S.- "Now You Can Join The Exclusive Club Of 400+ Runners Who've Smashed Goals And Redefined Limits With True Fit MN!"




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