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What is gait analysis?

What is gait analysis? Image shows person tying trainer laces.
(Image credit: Getty)

If you’re wondering; what is gait analysis then you’ve come to the right place as we’ll be explaining all you need to know, and how it relates to running.

There are many things you can do to improve your running, from following a training plan that builds up speed or mileage, to researching good nutrition to ensure you’re fuelling your body correctly. But surprisingly few people spend time looking at their running form, despite it being key in ensuring that you’re moving efficiently, comfortably, and without injury.

Having your gait analyzed is one of the simplest ways to improve your running. It gives you essential information on how you move, and a solid understanding of how to improve both your form and your fitness. As well as that, gait analysis is one of the most accurate ways to determine which type of running trainers suit your feet best.

Whether you’re out pounding the pavements or prefer to have the control over your speed and gradient that comes with using a treadmill, understanding your gait is the best foundation for building up your running no matter what level you’re at.

What is gait analysis? Image of running shoes on treadmill

(Image credit: Getty)

What does gait analysis involve?

Your ‘gait’ is a medical term for the way you walk, so your ‘running gait’ is the cycle a leg travels through during one step whilst you’re running. Our biomechanics and the way we run are so individual that having a gait analysis is something that is recommended for every runner, no matter how new or experienced they are to the sport.

Most good sports stores offer a gait analysis service, where one of the assistants will observe and assess your running style on a treadmill, or some stores simply ask you to squat so they can see how your feet move. We all move differently, and the overarching purpose of the gait analysis is to measure the degree of pronation - the natural inward roll of the foot as it strikes the ground. Armed with this knowledge, the assistant can find the best shoe for you to suit exactly how you move.

They will first ask you a few questions about your running, such as your goals, your current mileage, whether you’ve had any injuries, and what surface you usually run on – from cross-country to road or treadmill. You’ll be asked to run at a comfortable pace on a treadmill for about one minute whilst your stride is filmed. Afterward, the recording is played back in slow motion. This is to determine your pronation – the way your foot rolls inwards as it strikes the floor to absorb the shock. This movement differs from person to person. The results of the gait analysis will determine which type of running shoe is best for you, and ensure what you have on your feet is comfortable, supportive, and offers extra stability if you need it.

What is gait analysis? image of runner's feet on treadmill

(Image credit: Getty)

Is it worth getting gait analysis? 

The resounding answer to whether it’s worth getting your gait analyzed is yes, particularly if you're new to running or are dealing with any running injuries. It will improve your running comfort and reduce your risk of injury. It will also help considerably when choosing your new running shoes, as you can take your foot shape, the terrain you’re running on, and your pronation into consideration.

Generally, there are three different running styles:

Neutral is when the foot lands on its outer edge and then rolls inwards. The contact is spread around the arches of the foot, and you’d normally be recommended cushioned shoes that allow the foot to continue what it’s doing.

Overpronation is when the foot rolls substantially inwards as it lands. A study in the Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy showed that it can cause a wide variety of foot, knee, and back injuries. You would be recommended a shoe with substantially more support to keep the foot as stable as possible.

Underpronation is when the ankle doesn’t roll in when it strikes the ground, instead it rolls outwards putting pressure on the ankles and toes. It can cause pain through the arch of the foot, back, and knee, and increase your chances of rolled ankles, sprains, and issues such as plantar fasciitis. A gait analysis would identify this, and you would be recommended shoes with a thick sole that supports the arch of your foot.

In addition, insoles can also help by offering extra support and cushioning, particularly if you have narrow feet. They can also combat issues such as a high foot arch - which causes more pressure on a smaller area of the foot - by creating a solid foundation for the body.

What is gait analysis? Image of legs running up stairs

(Image credit: Getty Images )

How to improve your running gait

Having a correct gait not only reduces your chance of injury but also makes you a much more efficient runner. Regardless of how ambitious your running goals are, working on your gait will make running a much more enjoyable experience.

Firstly pay attention to your foot strike and which part of your foot hits the ground first. Runners who heel strike make contact with the floor at a greater distance from their center of mass than those who impact on their midfoot or forefoot, which is known as overstriding. It might seem the most efficient movement as it means you have a longer stride to cover a greater distance, but research carried out by Heiderscheit et al in 2011 showed that stride rate is vastly more important than stride length.

Remember that although there is a strong focus on the positioning of your feet, do not neglect your posture and body positioning that will all impact how you move. Keep your elbows at a 90 degree with your shoulders back, hands relaxed, and try not to hold tension in your upper body.

Remember to replace your running trainers before they get worn or lose their grip or shape to ensure you’re still getting the benefits of their design. The general rule is to replace the shoes every 400-500 miles you’ve run. Ensure to take the opportunity to have a gait analysis each time you buy running shoes to keep on top of any changes in your form.

Deborah Fraser

Deborah Fraser is a lifestyle writer based in the UK. She has contributed to a number of national publications, writing about health, the environment and sustainable travel. She holds a degree in journalism from Bournemouth University.