How To Improve Your Running Gait
From casual joggers, to power walkers, to serious marathoners you can improve your efficiency and avoid injury through a simple test called a gait analysis.
A person’s unique way of moving their body forward is called their gait. And although humans have been moving their bodies for millions of years, sometimes we tend to run or walk in a certain way that isn’t quite ideal.
For example, you might turn your foot inward when you run, take super short strides or maybe your wide arm movements are draining you of precious energy. If your running or walking form isn’t correct, repeating these motions over and over again could lead to injury. Incorrect form might also be holding you back from becoming faster or more efficient.
Why get a gait test?
It’s easy to observe another runner and notice where their form is lacking maybe they favor one leg over the other or turn their foot inwards but it’s another thing altogether to try to adjust your own form.
If you’re injured, learning about your running style and foot strike can clue you into what might have caused the injury. Maybe it was your shoe choice or a muscle imbalance caused the injury. If you’re not injured, but just looking to become a better runner or walker, a proper gait analysis can help you perfect your form so that you can become faster with less effort.
What happens during a gait analysis?
A gait analysis may involve using video and other tests to assess your body mechanics. The goal is to help you make changes to improve your efficiency. Doing this will help you determine the cause of any existing injuries while also preventing future ones.
During a gait analysis, a physical therapist or exercise physiologist asses a number of aspects of a runner’s gait through direct observation and sometimes through video technology. Often times you’ll run on a treadmill to get the best viewing options.
The analysis can include reviewing your:
- Running history.
- Training goals.
- Foot placement.
- Shoe wear.
- Strength and flexibility.
- Heel strike.
- Arm swing.
- Hip, knee and foot mechanics.
After a full assessment, you’ll learn what personal body mechanics issues you might have, what strength and flexibility exercises will help and you’ll walk away with changes you can make to improve your gait pattern. All of this will lower your chance of injury and help you become a better runner or walker.
Determine your foot strike
The way your foot falls onto the ground is one of the most important things about your gait. The foot strike impacts the way you absorb shock and how fast you run. It also helps you choose running shoes. The way your foot falls on the ground also leads to certain runner’s injuries.
Find the foot strike that works for you
Studies and experts disagree about which foot strike is the best. Some say that a heel strike should be avoided because it causes more impact and injury and leads to overstriding. Others think forefoot strikes should be avoided unless you sprint while some think forefoot strikes are the best. Despite this conflicting information, many professional and recreational runners believe that foot strike isn’t as important as stride length.
Determine if you need to change your stride
Think about the reasons you want to change your stride. Did someone tell you that you are running wrong? Do you want to improve your speed? Are you getting injured? Figuring out why you want to improve your gait can help determine if you really should work on it.
Shorten your stride
No matter what kind of foot strike you use when you run, making sure you land with your feet closer to your body will improve your stride. Shortening your stride so it’s closer to the body helps reduce the risk of stress on your muscles and bones, along with helping make you a more efficient runner. Many experts believe that a shorter stride length is the key to a successful gait, not foot strike.
Work on changing your strike and stride over a period of time
You can’t change your foot strike or your stride length overnight. You have to retrain your body to work with the new muscle movements. Your body is used to the stride and strike you use now, so prepare to spend two to three months working on changing your stride.
Buy the proper shoes
Getting the right stride and foot fall may depend on the shoes you wear. Try wearing lighter shoes that have a flatter angle from heel to toe. This doesn’t mean to buy minimalist shoes. The flatter shoe bottom can help improve your gait.
Work on your posture
Posture is very important for your running gait, and a proper gait is impossible with the correct posture. Poor posture causes your body to work harder, your muscles to overwork, and restricts blood and oxygen flow.
Improve your cadence
One way to help your gait is to improve your cadence. Cadence is your running rhythm, that is, how many times your foot hit the ground. Improving your cadence helps you improve your stride by helping you shorten it. Proper cadence helps you have a better gait.
Breathing is important for running. You should learn how to breathe from your belly. Instead of focusing your breath in your chest, you should breathe from lower down. Breathing helps your gait by helping you gain the most efficiency for your effort.
Adopt proper body positioning
Holding your body in the proper positions can help improve your gait. Keeping your muscles strong and at the proper place makes your muscles have to work less so you can run more efficiently.
Work on flexibility
Flexibility is important for promoting ease of bodily movement. Flexibility for running should not only be in the muscles, but also tendons, ligaments, and joints. Limited flexibility will restrict your body’s movement. With better flexibility, you can increase your hip extension, your calf motion, and the overall movement of your legs, which can help improve your gait.
Practice high knees
High knees can help improve your hip flexors, along with helping with your stride. Having strength in your hip flexors can help you work on shortening your stride and improving cadence, both pivotal to a better gait. You can do this exercise slowly to work on flexibility, and also do it faster to work with stride.
Do calf raises
Calf raises help both with strength and also with flexibility, which can help reduce calf-related injuries. Calf raises also help increase your cadence, which is one of the most important parts of improving your gait. You can perform this exercise barefoot or with shoes on.
Do a lunge
Lunges help strengthen your glutes so you can work on your range of motion. Lunges also help work on hip extension and pelvic and torso stabilization. Range, extension, and stabilization helps improve posture, stride, and cadence of your gait.
Try butt kickers
Butt kickers help work on the range of motion of your legs. They help improve your cadence and strengthen your recovery, which leads to a better gait. With more practice, you will improve your flexibility, giving your legs more movement.