Let’s get the first thing out of the way, running gait solely means running cycle. In sports biomechanics, we break every motor movement into multiple phases for a thorough, comprehensive analysis, technically known as structure of motor action. Let’s take a look at them in more detail.
Welcome to the Running gait lab
Running gait explained
Analysing your running gait is rather an important tool to identify and understand the minute details about your mechanical patterns, faults and qualities. It assesses your running form in incredible detail that when utilized in the right hands, significantly helps you to improve your overall running performance. Besides this, running gait clearly defines and highlights your biomechanical eccentricities, and thereby, helps in running injuries management.
In order to understand your running gait, an assessment will always focus on one leg at a time during the complete run cycle, and just for simplicity we will focus on left leg…
Your running gait is broadly divided into two phases:
- stance phase: the total time during which, your leg makes contact with the ground till it leaves the ground for next phase (This stance phase includes impact as well as absorption)
- swing phases: your leg is in the air and it travels forward and flexes at the hip and knee before making contact again (interestingly enough, during the swing phase there is brief time period when neither feet are in contact with the ground, you’re literally floating in the air unsupported. And funnily enough, this is known as float phase.
Running gait sub-phases
So now you have the basics understood, let’s dive a little deeper. Your running gait can be split into more sub phases there being 7 in total and are split by:
- Sub phases #1-4 belong to the stance phase
- Sub phases #5-7 are from the swing phase
To that end, here’s an understanding of the stance phase broken down into its 4 sub phases:
Stance Phase sub-phases
- Initial contact (touchdown): There are multiple ways to make initial contact with ground, such as heel-strike, mid foot strike and forefoot strike. Each differing ways of initial contact have their own advantages and disadvantages. The biomechanical implications on the muscles acting on your knees and ankles primarily absorb ground reaction forces, but it all depends on your movement pattern, posture and foot striking preferences. Heel strikers have been reported to have maximum impact and should be avoided for efficiency as well as safe running.
- Breaking: Following initial contact is known as the breaking phase. Characterized by knee and ankle flexion coincided with left foot pronation (remember we’re focusing on the left leg here) to absorb the initial impactful forces. During this absorption process, your connective tissues store elastic energy ready to spring in the later propulsion phase.
- Mid stance: (you may also hear it referred to as single support phase) The braking phase is continued until your left leg is directly under the hips. The left ankle and knee are at their maximum flexion angle.
- Toe off: Finally, there is a triple extension movement from the hip, knee and ankle to start propelling body forward. Also, remember that storing on elastic energy in the breaking phase? Well, that is released for maximum propulsion of significantly economical movement.
- Initial swing: The swing phases starts immediately after toe-off, where your foot has no contact with the ground. During swing phase hip, Knee and ankle of your left leg (remember the example) flexes to allow the foot to swing forward.
- Flight phase: is characterized by a period of both feet being in the air. This is only present during running and is absent in walking gait. Which is why running and walking gate differs. Did you know that?
- Terminal Swing: Finally, the swinging left leg initiates touch with the ground again to start stance phase of next cycle.
Boom! Just like that, You’re halfway there (and halfway through your run cycle too). Those 4 sub-phases complete your stance phase which accounts for approximately 40% of your running gait. And don’t forget, when one leg undergoes stance phase, other will be in swing phase and vice versa.
Swing Phase sub-phases
The above 3 phases form the swing phase of running gait which actually constitutes 60 % of the running gait. so you’re in the air more than you on the ground? Neat!
Importance of upper body mechanics
We can’t ignore the role your upper body mechanics plays in running. Basically, upper body helps to maintain balance throughout the running motion. The direction of movement of your arms are always opposite to the direction of lower limbs, mainly for the purpose of balance.
Interestingly, during breaking phase, your upper body mechanics aid the production of the propulsive forces. And during toe off, your arms and upper body produce breaking force. When you think about it, it truest is magical how our bodies work.
Benefits of running gait
When you go to get your running gait analyzed, it is done via treadmill, using multiple number of cameras with high frame rate recording of your running motion, from many differing angles (to get each sub-phase looked at in depth). This style of analysis gives comprehensive information about your whole body from head to toe during running. An absolute golden tool to understand your body dynamics.
So let’s say you’ve gone to get an assessment, you read this article so you know each step they are looking at, but NOW you want to know WHAT they’re actually looking for (other than how you strike the floor: heel strike, mid foot strike or forefoot strike). Well I’ll let you into the secret…
What a gait analysis can tell you
- Key areas of improvement: For instance, running analysis tells you about efficiency of your mechanical movements. Extent of extension, flexion at important joints, primarily hips, knees, ankles during different phases of gait. So having the information, going away and working on it with a coach, will definitely improve your running performance.
- Injury risk: Most running injuries are due to improper absorption of ground reaction forces. Your running gait will contain subtle pieces of information about your personal form and technique, any significant muscle imbalances or movement limitations and how they will impact your risk of injury.
So, this information will help you to understand what changes need to be made in order to absorb ground reaction force (GRFs) more effectively for you. This is not just limited to foot strike patterns, but also observation of hip drops during running Would be observed as it is a imperative indicator of unstable pelvic girdle (making overall running movement inefficient).
- Rehabilitation process: On the other hand, having a running gait analysis is helpful for the athletes looking to return to sport after injury. It can help to clearly identify persisting weaknesses, and how the body has adapted to your injury (whether short or long term). The information will truely help in regaining proper form to run with full potential. A perfect tool for the rehabilitation process.
- Pronation of foot: The observation of your foot strikes on ground gives clear indication of your foot pronation movement patterns. Pronation is described as the way your foot roll inwards during foot strike.It provides information about your natural ways to handle impact due to high ground reaction forces. (Don’t get me wrong, pronation is desired in order to propel forward from toe off, so it is needed, however not at the foot-strike phase).
There are three ways to describe foot pronation regarding gait analysis:
This is an important one, so I wanted to give you a more thorough explanation.
- Overpronation: The most commonly observed (70 %) in runners. It is defined during foot strike, the foot roll inwards excessively leading to transfer of load to the inner edge of foot (the arch), instead of centering it on to the ball of the foot. And actually, most often found within those athletes with flat feet.
If your known to suffer from overpronation, then stability shoes can help these runners for prevention of injuries.
- Underpronation: Some runners reveal supination during a foot strike. Opposite to overpronation, it means the outer side of the foot strikes the ground at a very steep angle without any inward rolling. A somewhat jarring effect causing a shock to the lower leg and commonly noticed in the runners with high arches.
Are you a underpronator? Then Neutral shoes can help!
- Neutral: runners with ‘normal’ arches usually have neutral pronation showing even, natural distribution of weight through the ball of the foot during foot strike. So, chances of injuries are minor in these athletes. And should always wear neutral shoes.
And if your still not sure which foot planatar type you are, and you’re just dying to know, then look here