Many runners hope to build up their endurance and running ability as they remain dedicated to the sport. Whether they want to run faster, farther or raise their stamina, runners often feel the need to improve their performance.
A runner’s gait is one of the most basic ways to analyze form and thus improve running speed and endurance. It also helps identify running faults to decrease the risk of becoming injured.
Running gait is defined by the cycle a leg moves through during one step while running.
It includes two phases: stance and swing. Within the swing phase, there exists a subphase that is unique to running called float or flight. Stance is the time when the foot hits the ground until the body is over the foot. This moment is when impact and absorption occur.
As a runner’s body travels ahead of the foot, they transition into the swing phase of gait when the foot leaves the ground. The legs then travel forward, flexing at the hip and knee until they make contact.
During the swing phase, there’s a moment when neither foot is in contact with the ground and the body is simply floating in the air without support. That is the floating stage and it’s the difference between a walking and running gait.
Analyzing a Runner’s Gait
Once the phases are understood, runners can see the mechanics of their running. Analyzing these phases allows runners to better understand their body works during movement, including stride length and foot contact placement. This allows runners to see where their joints may not be adequately supported, as well as any poorly controlled movements.
As you analyze your running gait, be sure to examine the following areas:
When it comes to assessing the front view of your gait, ask yourself these questions:
- Are the arms crossing the midline of the body?
- Are the knees aligned with the feet?
- Are the feet landing inside the width of the pelvis?
- When you land on the ground, are the feet excessively rolling in or out?
- Is the trunk rotating too much as each leg becomes outstretched?
- Is your pelvis rotating forward too much?
- Is your pelvis lowered to the opposite side of the stance leg?
When assessing your side view, ask yourself these questions:
- Are you holding your head upright and stable?
- Are your arms flexing ahead and extending behind your torso?
- Is the trunk of your body rotating too much?
- Is your pelvis excessively rotated forward with each stride?
- Is your foot landing in front of the body?
- Is the knee bent during landing?
- Is the incoming knee and ankle bending to prepare for swinging your leg?
Frequent issues during the gait cycle include overstriding. This occurs when runners land with their foot ahead of their center of mass, overextending the vertical translation of this center of mass and insufficient arm swinging.
Overstriding happens when the foot lands in front of the body’s center of mass. This causes a braking effect when propelling the body forward.
Excessive vertical translation of the body happens when some of the upper body’s energy causes it to bounce up and down too much. This creates higher energy exertion and reduces the forward propulsion. Arm swing often acts as a counterbalance for the opposite leg movement as it comes forward. However, during insufficient arm swings, an excessive rotation of the lower body makes runners less efficient.
How to Complete an Analysis
The best and easiest way to assess your gait is through video. This allows runners to see their movements through each phase. It’s best to film yourself from multiple angles, ideally from the front, back and one or both sides. This is often completed by mounting a camera and running past it several times. Runners can also set up a phone or tablet camera and run on a treadmill.
When recording yourself, a tip is to wear form-fitting clothing during this process to view limb movement properly. Runners should also make multiple passes if filming outside and wait a few minutes before starting again on the treadmill. It may also be helpful to film at the beginning of a run when muscles are less fatigued or at the end of the run to see the difference in movement.
There are also apps to help runners analyze their form. Check out Coach’s Eye, Hudl or SloPro for iPhones. These tools will allow you to run in slow mode and in real-time. Users can even view segments of an entire run.
A professional analysis will also be helpful. These are typically performed by physical therapists, although some running coaches may also provide this service. Gait analysis can be performed in biomechanics labs, but they’re not readily accessible for many people. However, runners should ensure that when they get a professional opinion, they are skilled in biomechanics or analyzing movement to identify any issues.
Improving your Gait
It can be difficult to change your form when running, but it’s important to practice to improve the gait. One of the biggest challenges is that changing one movement in running form likely causes a change in another area of running form. Some research shows that using multifactorial changes in biomechanics results in either no improvement or worsened running stamina.
Instead, try to make small changes, focusing on one area at a time and assessing the difference. Relaxing the arm during swinging may help. However, runners should avoid becoming too stiff and tensing the muscles during the stance phase.
There are many factors that can help improve your running gait. However, it’s always best to discuss your analysis and goals with a running coach or physical therapist who can assess the challenges unique to your body movements.