Many runners feel a fundamental need to improve their performance from the day before.

The most basic way to improve running speed and endurance is to analyze and improve running gait. This will also help reduce risk of injury by addressing any faults in running form.

What Is Running Gait?

The main phases of a leg’s movement during one step when running are stance and swing, with a subphase called float or flight unique to running.

The time period from when your foot first hits the ground until your body is over the foot is called the stance phase. This is when the impact and absorption occurs.

As your body moves forward, your foot leaves the ground and you enter the swing phase of gait. Your leg moves forward, bending at the hip and knee, before making contact with the ground again.

The float stage happens when neither foot is touching the ground and your body is in the air. This is what makes running and walking different.

What Are the Phases of Running Gait?

As mentioned, one running gait cycle includes two phases. The first phase starts when your foot strikes the ground and ends when your foot leaves the ground again. The second phase starts when your foot leaves the ground and ends when your foot strikes the ground again.

Stance Phase

The stance phases of running can be further broken down into the following contact points:

  • initial contact
  • mid-stance
  • toe-off

The heel strike is the first point of contact with the ground. However, contact may vary depending on which part of the foot makes contact first.

Your gate is unique to you and depends on how your foot hits the ground when you walk or run. You may have a heel strike, a mid-foot strike, or a forefoot strike.

As you make contact with the ground, your lower limbs and body absorb the force. The force that the ground exerts on your body is called the ground reaction force. This is when the impact is the greatest.

Biomechanics research has found the best point of contact with the ground to minimize the force of impact on the body. Your ankle and knee muscles protect your joints primarily by absorbing shock, but to what extent this occurs differs based on your individual body type.

Also, there are variances depending on your footwear.

Heel striking while barefoot is much more significant than while wearing shoes; as such, barefoot runners usually shorten their strides and land with their forefoot first.

After you first touch the ground, your body moves forward over your foot and leg. Your knee will be slightly bent. This is called mid-stance.

At mid-stance, your body transitions from its lowest point to its highest point. The foot rolls in from a supinated position to a pronated position.

The last phase of the running gait is known as toe-off. During this phase, your body is ahead of your foot, with the hip, knee, and ankle joints all extended in order to propel your body forward.

This means that, while one of your legs is in the air during the swing phase, the other leg is on the ground being used for support. The time spent on the ground during the gait cycle is about 40%. This is shorter than the total time spent in the air during the swing phase.

Swing Phase

The forefoot pulls up and rolls in as the foot leaves the ground, and the knee flexes to allow for better clearance of the foot during the swing.

Once the foot loses contact with the ground, the swing phase starts. It ends when the foot touches the ground again.

There is a brief moment where both feet are off the ground because the swing phases of both legs overlap. This is known as the float phase.

Float Phase

The float subphase, or flight subphase, is what differentiates running from walking and it occurs during the swing phase.

During walking, one foot is always in contact with the ground. However, during running there is a period in which both feet are not in contact with the ground.

Some research suggests that running with more training can result in staying off the ground for a longer period of time. In the most efficient runners, they can stay off the ground for 11% longer than runners who aren’t as trained.

Arm Swing During Running Gait

The arms should be in sequence with the opposite leg during the gait cycle. This means that they should both advance and extend behind the torso at the same time. The arms play an important role in counterbalancing the rotation from the opposite leg, which helps to create proper running technique.

What Is a Running Gait Analysis?

A gait analysis is when someone watches you run and looks at your form. They look at your whole body, not just your feet, to see if there are any subtle cues that can tell them what kind of shoes you need or how you can improve your form to prevent injury. It’s a helpful tool for shopping for shoes and preventing injuries.

A running gait analysis can help you to improve your technique and prevent injuries.

An analysis of your movement can help you see your stride length and foot contact placement, as well as where your joints may not be supporting you sufficiently or where there is poor movement control.

Analyzing running gait includes examining the following components:

Frontal View

  • Are your arms crossing the midline of your body?
  • Is your trunk rotating excessively during each leg’s advancement?
  • Is your pelvis dropping to the opposite side of the stance leg?
  • Is your pelvis rotating forward excessively?
  • Are your knees aligning with the feet?
  • Are your feet landing just inside the width of the pelvis?
  • Are your feet landing excessively rolled in or out?

Side View

  • Is your head upright and stable?
  • Are your arms flexing ahead of and extending behind your torso?
  • Is your trunk rotating excessively?
  • Is your pelvis rotating forward excessively with each stride?
  • Is your foot landing in front of your body?
  • Is your knee bent upon landing?
  • Are your trailing knee and ankle bending to prepare for swinging your leg through?

Some common issues that can occur while you are walking include: your foot landing too far ahead of your center of mass, your center of mass moving up and down too much, and not swinging your arms enough.

If your foot lands in front of your center of mass, this is called overriding. This can cause a braking effect, which slows down the forward momentum of your body.

Translating your body too much vertically will cause your upper body to use more energy, making you move less efficiently and forward.

As mentioned before, when you swing your arms while you walk, it helps balance out the movement of your legs. If you don’t swing your arms enough, your lower body will rotate too much, which makes walking less efficient.

Pronation, Overpronation, or Supination?

During a gait analysis, pronation will probably be the most commonly used word. Pronation is not a bad thing, it just refers to the flexibility of the ankle allowing the foot to turn in slightly when it comes into contact with the ground. This movement helps to absorb shock and support the body during movement.

As long as the leg is straight and aligned, we’re in business. Overpronation happens when the ankle turns too far inward, which forces the inside of the foot to absorb too much shock. This can lead to injuries that can even affect the lower back! Overpronation is often associated with lower or fallen arches, but this isn’t always the case. Runners can overpronate for different reasons, and some of these reasons can be fixed by improving strength, mobility, and technique. That’s why it’s always a good idea to do a gait analysis when buying a new pair of running shoes, as runners’ gaits can change over time.

We will occasionally see something called supination, which is the opposite of overpronation. With supination, the ankle rolls too far outward, putting more pressure on the outer part of the foot. Although different parts of the foot are affected, the basic problem of shock not being absorbed evenly is still present. When the feet and legs are able to absorb shock evenly, the body can handle the impact of running on pavement. If something is not aligned correctly, injuries can and do occur.

Why Get a Gait Analysis?

You have given us a lot of information about your running style and we have observed your gait. We have come to some conclusions and we need to get you into the right shoes. Running shoes are very specialized now and we need to take into account your gait, running habits and goals to find the right pair for you. A gait analysis can also help us understand why you have been experiencing some aches and pains in your legs and back and what you can do to help feel better again.

Neutral vs Stability Shoes

There are two main types of running shoes: neutral and stable. Stability shoes are designed for runners who overpronate, with a denser piece of material on the medial (inner) side to nudge the ankle back into alignment. Neutral shoes have the same density of cushion around the shoe, since no correction needs to be made to the gait of neutral runners.

There is a large selection of stability shoes. Those designed for runners who only slightly overpronate and are lighter in weight feature subtle high-density material. In contrast, motion control shoes, which are intended for runners who overpronate heavily, are much more structured and cushioned, with significant high-density material. A gait analysis can help you determine which type of shoe is right for you. Additionally, some brands and shoes have a wider or more snug fit, so it comes down to personal preference.

While traditionally runners have opted for stability shoes, many brands are starting to rethink this approach. Dynamic stability shoes take the best of traditional stability shoes and add new ideas to create a faster, more efficient stride. This could be a big help for runners whose overpronation gets worse as they push through their stride, and it’s handy for runners who overpronate more on one side than the other. Most shoe brands out there have their unique take on dynamic stability, so it’s an exciting time for running shoes.

 

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