Gait analysis: Do it yourself, and improve your running

running gait
Gait analysis: How to do it, and why Catherine Falls Commercial

The running world has a bias towards effort. We tend to focus on the volume and intensity of our training and the effect that they have on our cardiovascular fitness. Of course, this is important, but it’s not the only piece of the performance puzzle. Gait and technique are also important components of performance, but they’re often overlooked – other than when we buy new running shoes.

What is gait analysis?

While we tend to develop our own running styles, our technique can affect running economy and put a limit on how fast we may eventually be able to run. Poor technique can increase the likelihood of injury, which, in turn, affects the consistency of your training and thus can hamper your potential to progress. By analysing your technique, you can try to identify some of the key potential risk factors to address with conditioning or drills.

Running technique is dynamic and complex, with lots of moving parts. That complexity can lead to sweeping judgements about ‘good’ or ‘poor’ form based on how pleasant a runner’s movement is to the eye. The technique and gait you should be interested in is one that is effective – in terms of both performance and injury prevention. So don’t try to force your body into a generic perfect-looking technique. Instead, assess yourself as an individual, think about your injury history, where you feel stronger or weaker in runs or races, or areas that feel less comfortable than they might.

How to analyse your gait

One approach is to engage the services of a performance lab. Biomechanics labs use sophisticated software to introduce a high level of detail and measurement to your gait analysis. This gives you key data and expert opinion. However, it can be expensive and, obviously, requires you to attend a lab.

There’s also a range of DIY assessments. Looking at the wear pattern on your shoes can be a useful exercise, as it indicates areas of significant impact, as well as showing differences between your left and right side. But undertaking basic video analysis can be a more useful way to reflect on how your body actually moves. Here’s how:

Set up: Place a camera, smartphone or tablet in landscape mode on a tripod. Or, failing that, get a friend to hold it.

Recording settings: Record in the highest resolution your device allows and at normal speed, not slow motion – you can slow it manually later.

Background: A clean background can make detail easier to see later.

Surface: A good starting point is a flat, firm surface. While treadmills are often used for gait analysis due to practicality, it’s better if you can record outdoors.

Process: Set up your camera so you can record your whole body side-on, and fill five to eight seconds of footage. Record footage from this angle at a variety of paces before doing the same from directly behind – running away from the camera – and directly in front – running towards the camera. In addition to the footage, capture your cadence (or steps per minute) using your running watch or ask someone to help count your steps as you run. A 2011 study showed that as runners fatigued in a marathon, their technique changed. As such, consider capturing video when tired at the end of a long run or faster session.

Methodology: There’s no one correct way to analyse running form. I tend to watch at full speed several times at various paces to try to see if anything stands out. Then I watch frame by frame to break down the various stages of the running gait, looking at individual components as opposed to trying to see everything at once. I take screenshots at key points and use annotation tools to help me better identify joint angles, posture and footstrike.

Key phases of the running gait

Broadly, you’ll see that some runners tend towards a more gliding type of gait, with lower knee lift and less up-and-down movement, whereas others tend towards a higher impact, more bouncy action. Neither is right or wrong, but they provide a useful context to the detail below.

The early swing phase

gait analysis
gait analysis

What it is: The moments after your foot pushes off from the ground.

What to watch for

Thigh return: Check that your thigh is ‘pulled’ through quickly by the hip flexors after push-off and doesn’t lag behind the hips.

Heel return: Look for a heel that’s pulled quickly up towards the buttocks.

Trunk movement: Check for minimal rotation through the torso.

Posture and chest: Look for a ‘tall’ position, with hips and chest extended and shoulders in line with your hips.

The late swing phase

gait analysis
gait analysis

What it is The moments before your foot hits the ground.

What to watch for

Foot position: Foot flexed at the ankle by pulling your laces towards your shin.

Foot return angle: Your foot returns down and back towards the ground, not reaching out in front of your body.

Bean-shaped stride: Combined, the early and late swing phase of your running gait should almost have the shape of a kidney bean.

Ground contact

gait analysis
gait analysis

What it is The moment your foot lands on the ground.

What to watch for

Strike point: Which part of your foot contacts the ground first? The heel, midfoot or forefoot? Is your foot dorsiflexed at the ankle (toes pointing up) or plantar flexed (toes down)?

Shank angle: The angle between your footstrike and knee position. Ideally, your foot should land under your knee to create a neutral shank angle.

Active contact: As your foot strikes the ground, is it a passive contact, or is there some tension? Active foot contact is where your tendons react to pop you into your next stride.

Stance phase

gait analysis
gait analysis

What it is When your foot is fully in contact with the ground.

What to watch for

Ground contact time: How much time do you spend on your foot?

Do you quickly transition through your stance phase into your next stride?

Lean: Look for no more than a small forward lean from the ankle.

Pelvic position: Your pelvis position should appear neutral from a side view. Imagine your hips are a bucket of water – would the water be level or sloshing out? From the rear view, your hips should be as level as possible.

Hip extension: Are you sitting back into your hips or do you have a stronger, more extended hip position?

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