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How we run – the way in which we hold our body and our feet hit make contact with the ground – can make a huge difference to the speed, endurance and longevity of a runner.
A whole science has sprung up around gait analysis, which can identify biomechanical abnormalities – quirks in your technique – as you run or walk.
Many specialist running stores analyse gait as part of a fitting process. A variety of techniques are used, including in-house experts who can spot an issue at 100 paces to state-of-the-art video technology.
What is gait analysis, er, analysing?
The main aspect of gait analysis is examining how your foot strikes the ground. There are three ways that this happens:
- Your foot rolls inwards (pronates). Almost three-quarters of runners overpronate and it means that the foot rolls inward. It is easily spotted after a while as the arch side of the sole will start to wear at the heel at a much faster rate than the rest. It’s usually seen in runners with low arches or flat feet and can cause shin splints, plantar fasciitis, knee pain and heel spurs.
- Your foot doesn’t roll inwards enough (supinates). The foot has little or no movement inwards as it strikes the ground which can cause a jarring effect and bring on plantar fasciitis, shin splints and ankle strain.
- Your foot stays neutral. Your foot lands centrally and this is generally best for remaining injury free.
Can I analyse my own gait?
The simple answer is “yes”, the more involved answer is “yes, but the information is very limited”.
The simplest way is to carry out the wet footprint test. Wet your sole, step onto a piece of thick paper (tissue will not work for obvious reasons), or a dark, dry surface, and examine the footprints you leave behind.
If you’re able to do this while running a few steps – on a patio for example – you might find it very beneficial. The amount of your sole that can be seen will indicate your arch type.
If a lot of your foot is shown around the arch it indicates that you overpronate and would probably benefit from a pair of stability shoes. Less arch shown will indicate a neutral strike or supination and neutral shoes are probably required.
It is always best to get a second opinion however, specifically if you are new to running or have been suffering any injury problems.
How will the professionals do gait analysis?
Most in-store analysis involves a treadmill and a camera so you can watch back and fully understand what you have been told.
Some stores will advise on what they see, while others use video analysis software such as Dartfish, 3-D Gait, and KinnetiGait.
At the upper levels of gait analysis which is used by the top professionals and healthcare professionals, there are further options such as pressure mats and laser sensors.
One thing that is very important to remember though is that two minutes on a treadmill in a shop while on your best running behaviour will not represent your actual gait. The best gait analysts will also watch you run outside and encourage you to run ‘normally’.
Olivier Bernhard, three times world duathlon champion and multiple Ironman winner, is the creator of one of the most iconic new brands in running: the On shoe. The shoes, which were inspired by his own battles against Achilles injury, are instantly recognisable with their ‘Cloud’ technology on the sole.
He said: “For a long time we were told that heel striking is bad and that you shouldn’t do that, but everyone is different and one person will have different running styles even in one run.
“You don’t run the same when you get tired, when you run downhill, when you run off-road so you need shoes that work for your whole run, not the first 15 minutes when you are totally fresh.”
How much does gait analysis cost?
Many running stores have cottoned on to the fact that some runners were getting the analysis done and then buying online so they charge if you don’t go on to buy from them. It’s worth checking before you get on the treadmill.
The cost can vary completely if you go to specialist labs. Organisations such as The Run Lab in Cornwall charges £80 for a basic analysis, £125 for a more involved test at multiple speeds and £180 for a full test for performance-focussed athletes.
A good gait analysis can be worth every penny. If you buy the wrong trainers you are likely to waste about £100 on them alone and then just keep your fingers crossed the physio bills don’t mount up at £40 per session.