Does gait analysis provide valuable insights on your running stride or is it a sales tactic?
There's a whole world of running shoes out there, all making grand promises about what they can do for you. When you're first starting out as a runner it can be very tricky indeed to work out which pair is right for you and whether it's worth spending the big bucks.
If you enter a running shop during this selection period you might well be encouraged to try gait analysis to help determine the best footwear for you. This generally takes the form of a quick run on a treadmill to determine your running style, which can lead to shoe recommendations.
The cynical may well recoil, assuming it's a ploy to get you to buy shoes. And it is, but it's also an easy and usually free way to get a bit more insight into your running gait, which can be important in helping you to avoid injuries and fulfil your potential in the sport.
Below you'll find everything you need to to know about gait analysis, starting with what running gait actually is.
What Is Running Gait?
"Your running gait, comprising five phases, is the way your foot strikes and leaves the floor with each stride," says Gordon Crawford, a British triathlon champion and former coach for the Scottish national team. © Provided by Dennis Publishing Limitedrunning gait phases
The five phases are as follows:Stance
When your foot first strikes the ground. Loading
From when your heel hits the ground to the moment your forefoot touches down. Mid-stance
The point at which your heel starts to lift and the forefoot flexes. Toe-off
When your foot leaves the ground. Swing
The time between your foot leaving the ground and touching it again.
"The foot has its own natural rolling movement, outwards or inwards, throughout the five phases. Injuries can occur when these rolling movements, known as pronation, become exaggerated," says Crawford.
"With normal pronation the foot rolls evenly, distributing the force of impact optimally, followed by an even toe-off. Those with normal pronation are often referred to as neutral runners.
"With over-pronation the foot rolls too far inwards, flattening the foot arch and stretching the muscles and tendons in the foot. With under-pronation there's an excessively outwards roll, which places strain on the muscles and tendons that stabilise the ankle."
What Happens During Gait Analysis?
For runners, gait analysis usually involves a fairly quick and free treadmill test at a running shop (although it can also be a very thorough process involving a podiatrist). To experience the former, we tried gait analysis at the London Marathon Store near Liverpool Street.
The first step was standing barefoot on the floor and bending at the knees, before doing the same on a mirrored stand to get a better look at how our feet came into contact with the ground. Then we ran for a short period on a treadmill in shoes recommended for our level of pronation. The whole thing took under 30 minutes and provided the chance to run in a couple of different pairs of shoes.
There are more extended sessions available that will look at your entire stride, but generally a free gait analysis in a running shop won't extend much beyond checking how high your arch is and pronation during running.
What Are The Benefits Of Gait Analysis?
Gait analysis can be used to identify how your foot rolls and recommend a shoe designed to support you correctly, but you can also check how your whole body is moving with each stride.
"Everybody has an individual running style, so it's really important to analyse the whole body," says Joe Wells, technician at the Saucony Stride Lab. "The outcome will be an understanding of the runner's requirements. Usually, selecting correct footwear is part of the solution, but it will also lead to advice regarding a flexibility, strength and conditioning regimen."
What Are The Most Common Issues Revealed By Gait Analysis?
"Slow cadence - longer strides at a lower frequency; heel striking - with your foot landing in front of your hips; a lack of core strength, which results in the hips dropping, which can cause both the knee and ankle to rotate inwards; and a lack of flexibility and strength, particularly in the glutes and calves," says Wells.
"All of these can result in injury and a reduction in running efficiency. However, all of these can be fixed relatively easily. Pilates, core work and yoga complement running because they combine core strength with flexibility to help increase efficiency, but also reduce the risk of injury."
Is It Worth Doing?
Yes and no. If you're an experienced runner with a good idea of the shoes you like, then you'll probably be best off sticking with what you know (unless you're getting a lot of injuries). For new runners, however, it's worth doing. It's free, you might learn something about your running style and the terminology around running shoes, and you'll get the chance to try some shoes out. All this will make it easier to pick a pair of shoes, whether that's there and then or later on. Even if you go against the advice given, at least you can make a more informed choice.
Then there's the possibility that gait analysis does discover something important about your running style that tells you what the best type of shoe to wear is - or, perhaps more importantly, shows you that you've been wearing the wrong type. This might mean you avoid those niggling injuries that can make training a frustrating experience.
Ultimately, if you're in the market for running shoes for a marathon or any long-distance event, you should be going to a proper running shop for advice anyway. And while you're there, it won't cost you anything to jump on the treadmill for a few minutes.
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