As runners we’ve come to realize that running isn’t as straightforward a sport as we always thought it was. In fact at the break of the twentieth century, the sport of running transformed from what was essentially a primitive exercising activity with a lot of historical backing, to one of the most competitive sporting communities in the world.
All of a sudden just being fit and conditioned was no longer adequate. We quickly came to realize that despite the belief that the hardest working running would always win, there are far more factors influencing our performance as runners.
Sport scientists, former athletes and performance coaches alike are now looking at everything from nutrition and training environments on a macro scale all the way to genes and DNA on the micro level.
Now if you’re like us, and you’re not planning on winning a comrades marathon anytime soon, we can empathize with you that all of the above might not really apply to you. Simply because it just isn’t practical nor feasible to expect a novice runner to be able to implement that level of scientific backing into their running regime. The costs involved are staggering and not available to the everyday runner. Not to mention the technical aspect to all of these factors, it quickly becomes a pipe dream.
However, if you were to scroll through all the factors influencing running performance there is one concept that is not only easy to understand it’s, in theory, fairly easy to implement.
What is it? Well it’s the Infamous Running Gait of Course!
But before we jump straight into that let’s take a step back and answer a few questions:
What is Gait?
As a Biokineticist, we use gait almost everyday when evaluating and or screening patients and athletes alike. Gait is simply the scientific name for walking or human movement using your lower limbs. And that’s about it, walking, jogging and running all fall under the umbrella term gait.
What is a Gait Analysis?
There is a term I use amongst my athletes and that is “Show me how you walk and I’ll tell you how you live”. In the simplest of terms this just means that by simply analyzing your gait we can tell a lot about your habits, your strengths and your weaknesses. For the past few decades professionals have been using gait as a diagnostic tool. A way of determining any biomechanical, neurological or compensatory mechanisms and or deficiencies in a person.
Photos, videos and even slow motion technology are all used to analyze a person’s gait. I personally use an athlete's gait to determine their muscular imbalances. This information is then used to design their respective training program to address these issues and hopefully see an improvement in their individual performance down the road.
We observe factors such as stride length, step length, arm swing and even trunk rotation. Now I know these might not make sense right now, but these are all factors of your gait.
That’s why a gait analysis is a powerful tool in the world of injury rehabilitation, injury prevention and medical diagnosis.
Now let’s take a closer at the concept of gait:
What are the Biomechanics of Gait?
Biomechanics is simply the mechanics of walking and by extension running. But in order for you to understand how gait works we need to introduce a few key concepts first:
These are, in our opinion of course, the fundamentals that make up the biomechanics of gait. We can further breakdown the gait cycle into extreme specifics however we feel that this is far too technical for the purpose of this piece. But if you’re a bit of a nerd, like myself, you can take a deep dive into the technicalities of a gait analysis and get clued up on everything you need.
The muscles involved in gait.
In terms of what each of these muscles do during gait, is a bit technical for most. But it is a good idea to familiarize yourself with the basics of anatomy. As it will help you understand how your body works in relation to the different muscle groups.
For instance, tight or overworked hamstrings can affect your gait. This can cause other muscles like your calves or quads to compensate for the imbalance created by your non-optimally performing hamstrings.
This can cause an almost domino-like reaction resulting in long term injuries.
So get to know your body and it’s various muscle groups, trust me it will save you months of pain and frustration down the line.
Why is Understanding Gait so Important to Runners?
This is actually quite a simple question to answer:
“If you understand how your body works when under a specific stress or when doing a specific movement, you can control your body”
* Konrad Barnes, Biokineticist
You see when it comes to your specific body type, level of conditioning and running style understanding how all these factors work in unison, provides you with valuable insight on how or why you run the way you do. Because your gait will ultimately determine how well or not well you run.
Because everyone is unique in their physiological makeup, using a running analysis to address any or all of your insufficiencies can do wonders for your running performance.
Some of the benefits of training according to your individual gait cycle is:
It comes down to knowledge and education. Because it is usually the lack there of that leads to you getting injured or worse… Not making the cut off time in your next marathon!
So if you have access to a specialist and or specialist facility that has a running analysis system, it is definitely something you should consider checking out.
Running Gait and Your Shoes
Now before you go out and just buy the best looking running shoe in the store, we definitely advise you to atleast get some sort of assessment done with regards to your specific gait. You see, no two runners are the same in the way their feet land and take off from the ground. In fact there are various categories you fall into depending on your type of foot movement.
So after you’ve identified what type of foot mechanics you have, you can find the correct shoe for your specific gait profile.
The general consensus is as follows:
However, this is just the general guideline. Your specific running analysis might not agree with the above summation, and that's okay.
Want to know why that’s okay?
Because you don’t have to change your gait! Repeat after me, if it feels natural stick with it! I cannot tell you how many times athletes try and force themselves to unlearn their own natural running style. They get a running analysis done and all of a sudden they think they’re broken and need to be fixed. Guys, your gait remains your gait. But understanding your gait cycle and learning how to adapt to get the best out of it is the only way this whole concept works.
Remember all of this should serve to improve your performance, not the other way around!