8
MIN READ
The power of running gait analysis: How it can help enhance performance
Analysing your movement patterns can help identify areas of weakness and imbalance.
Written by
Team Compound
Medically reviewed by
Team Compound
Last updated
April 17, 2024

Running seems deceptively simple — it's just putting one foot in front of the other, right? Not exactly.

How you stride while running significantly impacts your performance and your risk of injury. And, as ubiquitous as running is, we rarely learn the correct techniques for stride length, cadence, posture, and arm swing. It’s for this reason that running gait analysis is so important.

The systematic and scientific process of analysing your movement patterns and running biomechanics can help identify areas of weakness and imbalance and, with strategies to improve them, helps to enhance performance, maximise your running efforts, and reduce the risk of injury. 

Anyone can benefit from running gait analysis, and, as we’ll explain here, conducting these tests can help you reach your fitness goals no matter your starting point or fitness level.

From the importance of form to tips on improving your running technique, we’ll cover everything you need to know about running gait and how an analysis is conducted.

What is running gait?

For most of us, running is second nature. Unless you’re a professional athlete or marathoner, chances are you don’t spend much time thinking about the mechanics of your movement or paying close attention to your foot strikes.

Running gait analysis does this for us and refers to the cycle of motions that your feet and legs travel through during one step when you run, as well as the position of your arms to counterbalance the rotation from the opposite leg.

Running gait involves several biomechanics and movement cycles, including running stride, how and where your feet land during each stride, stance, impact on the body, and arm swing. 

What are the phases of the running gait cycle?

The running gait cycle begins when one foot makes contact with the ground and ends when that same foot lands on the ground again.

Within this cycle are two phases: the stance phase, when part of the foot is touching the ground, and the swing phase, which occurs when that same foot isn’t touching the ground.

Each phase can be further broken down into sub-phases, which we’ll dive into below. 

Stance phase

This occupies 60% of the complete gait cycle and involves the following sub-phases. 

  • Initial contact (heel strike): This occurs when your foot hits the ground, absorbing the force of the ground. Your knee will bend at an angle requiring your leg to rotate internally to help absorb the impact as you prepare for the next phase.
  • Mid-stance: During this phase, the weight of your body is fully supported on a single leg as your body moves over your lead foot to prepare for the next phase. This is where form is particularly important, as the loading on that single leg will have a major impact on running economy and risk of injury. 
  • Propulsion: This is when the foot begins to lift off the ground, and stored elastic energy is released to propel you forward. Your weight will shift to the front of the foot as your muscles contract to move you up and away from the ground.

Swing phase

Occupying 40% of the total gait cycle, this is the period of the cycle in which the foot lifts off the ground and the body weight is supported by the other leg and foot [1]. It involves three swing phases.

  • Initial swing: As your foot leaves the ground, you’ll experience dorsiflexion in the forefoot as it rolls in slightly. The knee then flexes to allow for optimal clearance of the foot over the ground. 
  • Mid-swing: The ankle will maintain a neutral position while the knee begins to extend. 
  • Late swing: This occurs when the swing leg tibia is vertical and ends with its contact with the ground. The hip remains flexed and the knee will extend before flexing slightly ahead of the initial contact. 

While these are the two main cycles in running gait, there’s also the float or flight phase, which is unique to running. When walking, you’ll always have one foot in contact with the ground. In running, however, there’s a time when both feet are in the air and the body isn’t in contact with the ground.

Ultimately, those with good running biomechanics make the most of this time by creating more power efficiently on the ground to then extend the duration of the float phase. 

What is a normal running gait?

If you’ve ever watched the athletics racing events at the Olympics and marvelled at Usain Bolt’s powerful stride, Cathy Freeman’s height during the float phase, or the posture of Eliud Kipchoge that allows him to keep a relaxed arm swing and strong core for the duration of the marathon, you’ll know that there’s really no such thing as a ‘normal’ running gait.

Each of us will have a unique running style which can be greatly influenced by distance, speed, and terrain. Even so, several elements can be improved for better running form and enhanced performance. 

Focus on cadence

Otherwise known as the number of steps taken per minute as you run, it’s believed that the ideal running cadence is around 180spm, although anything above 170spm is good. This will help avoid heel-striking which occurs when overstriding. 

Keep your shoulders relaxed

Arm swing is just as important as what your legs are doing, and you want to avoid rotations in your trunk or hunching your shoulders as you run.

Keep your elbows bent at a 90-degree angle and swing your arms from your folders forward and backward while ensuring your hands are relaxed. 

Maintain a slight lean

A strong core is imperative for running as it helps to improve balance and reduce the risk of injury. You want to maintain a tall posture, but having a slight lean will help propel your body forward. 

Why is it important?

Now that we know the all-encompassing analysis of biomechanics that’s achieved with running gait analysis, the importance of such an assessment can’t be overstated.

By its nature, running involves a high level of repetitive force that’s placed on the body, starting at the point of foot contact with the ground which then travels up the shin, through the knee, and further up the body.

Research suggests the ground reaction force is 2.5-3 times an individual’s body weight, with calf muscles taking up to 8 times your body weight [2].

As a result, understanding foot strike, loading, stride length, cadence, and postural alignment can greatly reduce your risk of injury, particularly when it comes to overuse injuries sustained through repetitive loading.

This isn’t just limited to lower limb injuries like shin splints or hamstring tendinopathy. If you’re finding your lower back hurts after a run, it might be that an anterior pelvic tilt is causing parts of your body to compensate, resulting in tightness and pain in other areas.  

As well as reducing the risk of injury, running gait analysis can also enhance performance. By focusing on improving your gait, you’ll become more efficient and economical in your running, preserving energy so you can increase speed [3].

It can also be used to select the right running shoes for exercising, as an analysis of your foot’s interface with the ground can be used to choose shoes that best suit your gait and running needs. 

What is a running gait analysis?

Running gait analysis refers to the mechanics of your running style. Often, our feet can be landing in a way that puts us at greater risk of injury. Yet, it’s only through running gait analysis that we become aware of such things as it allows us to see every component of the movement, such as foot contact placement and length of stride. 

By offering various angles and views of an individual’s running technique, running gait analysis can identify weaknesses, strengths, and imbalances in our movement patterns. These may be in the following areas:

  • Trunk rotation: Is it excessively rotating with each stride?
  • Pelvis rotation: Is it rotation forward excessively with each stride?
  • Arm swing: Are the arms crossing the middling of the body, extending behind the torso, or flexing ahead?
  • Head positioning: Is your head upright and stable or moving excessively from side to side? 
  • Foot placement: Is your foot landing in front of your body, is it excessively rolled in or out, and does it land inside the width of your pelvis or further away? 
  • Point of impact: Is your knee bent upon landing?

By gaining a greater understanding of our biomechanics and potential deviations from the ideal technique, running gait analysis is an invaluable tool — this is why we use it as a diagnostic tool in Compound's program (more on that later).

By identifying those areas of imbalance and then developing strategies to improve them, running gait analysis can greatly improve running performance and reduce the risk of injuries that may arise due to our biomechanics, such as stress fractures, shin splints, or patellar tendonitis [4].

How is a running gait analysis conducted?

Traditionally, a running gait assessment is conducted with a video examination of you running on a treadmill for a minute or so. Using slow motion, experts will focus on your foot's initial contact with the ground to see how the foot lands. The swing phase and stance phase will also be analysed to see your head positioning, posture, forward propulsion, and knee flexes from multiple angles.

While this process can offer valuable insights, advances in technology mean running gait analysis has become even more accurate. Scanning technology is also used to check for any imbalances or asymmetry in your stride.

Equipped with sensors, scanners can detect loading patterns and movement efficiency to understand what muscles are placed under great load and if there’s a particular side you may be favouring. 

How to improve your running gait

If a running gait analysis identifies imbalances or weaknesses in your biomechanics, know that it can take time to correct them. This can be the most challenging part of the process, as it involves breaking habits and can result in decreased performance in the short term.

Slow and steady progression

Changes to your running form don’t occur overnight, particularly when it comes to breaking bad habits you've had for months or years. Like learning a new skill, improving your running gait requires patience, effort, and lots of practice. 

Research suggests that adopting multiple changes in your biomechanics can result in no improvements or worsened running economy, so it’s best to approach any changes one at a time and then assess the difference as you go.

For example, if you need to increase your cadence, raise it by a few steps per minute each week rather than making a sudden jump. This gradual approach allows your body to adapt without causing undue stress.

Ultimately, you don’t want to overcomplicate things. Avoid over-striding by focusing on increasing your steps per minute and staying relaxed in your arm swing and shoulders with a tall posture. 

Strength training

It's not just about making changes to your running — resistance and stretching exercises can help address weaknesses and imbalances that contribute to poor form.

Focus specifically on the core, hips, and glutes, as their strength is crucial for maintaining a stable and efficient stride.

Reassess regularly

Gait analysis isn't a one-time fix; it's an ongoing process. Revisit your running form and mechanics every couple of months, particularly after making significant changes. This will ensure that you stay on track and can continue to make improvements.

Preventative healthcare starts now

Now that we know what running gait analysis is, it’s clear that anyone can benefit — no matter your fitness level or running ability. Looking to achieve peak performance? Meet Compound, we're a digital clinic for performance health. Once the exclusive domain of billionaires and Hollywood stars, we're on a mission to make premium concierge care accessible to every man who wants more.

Equipped with leading diagnostic reporting that includes running gait analysis, Compound’s team of dedicated healthcare professionals and expert specialists is guaranteed to help you access the future of proactive healthcare and reach your health goals. 

Running gait analysis is used as part of our diagnostics as it lets us survey two things — one is running ecnomony (we can advise if you're running ineffciently and expending more energy than needed) and the second is around safety and if you're running in a way that presents an injury risk.

It also provides insight into strength imbalances present in the lower chain and where your injury vulnerabilities lie. This information is used to tailor a personalised prehab program to help avoid injury and increase performance.

We take a multi-disciplinary approach to health optimisation and preventative care to help men unlock barriers to everyday performance. Our team of dedicated healthcare professionals and expert specialists are here to help you access the future of proactive healthcare, today.

Running seems deceptively simple — it's just putting one foot in front of the other, right? Not exactly.

How you stride while running significantly impacts your performance and your risk of injury. And, as ubiquitous as running is, we rarely learn the correct techniques for stride length, cadence, posture, and arm swing. It’s for this reason that running gait analysis is so important.

The systematic and scientific process of analysing your movement patterns and running biomechanics can help identify areas of weakness and imbalance and, with strategies to improve them, helps to enhance performance, maximise your running efforts, and reduce the risk of injury. 

Anyone can benefit from running gait analysis, and, as we’ll explain here, conducting these tests can help you reach your fitness goals no matter your starting point or fitness level.

From the importance of form to tips on improving your running technique, we’ll cover everything you need to know about running gait and how an analysis is conducted.

What is running gait?

For most of us, running is second nature. Unless you’re a professional athlete or marathoner, chances are you don’t spend much time thinking about the mechanics of your movement or paying close attention to your foot strikes.

Running gait analysis does this for us and refers to the cycle of motions that your feet and legs travel through during one step when you run, as well as the position of your arms to counterbalance the rotation from the opposite leg.

Running gait involves several biomechanics and movement cycles, including running stride, how and where your feet land during each stride, stance, impact on the body, and arm swing. 

What are the phases of the running gait cycle?

The running gait cycle begins when one foot makes contact with the ground and ends when that same foot lands on the ground again.

Within this cycle are two phases: the stance phase, when part of the foot is touching the ground, and the swing phase, which occurs when that same foot isn’t touching the ground.

Each phase can be further broken down into sub-phases, which we’ll dive into below. 

Stance phase

This occupies 60% of the complete gait cycle and involves the following sub-phases. 

  • Initial contact (heel strike): This occurs when your foot hits the ground, absorbing the force of the ground. Your knee will bend at an angle requiring your leg to rotate internally to help absorb the impact as you prepare for the next phase.
  • Mid-stance: During this phase, the weight of your body is fully supported on a single leg as your body moves over your lead foot to prepare for the next phase. This is where form is particularly important, as the loading on that single leg will have a major impact on running economy and risk of injury. 
  • Propulsion: This is when the foot begins to lift off the ground, and stored elastic energy is released to propel you forward. Your weight will shift to the front of the foot as your muscles contract to move you up and away from the ground.

Swing phase

Occupying 40% of the total gait cycle, this is the period of the cycle in which the foot lifts off the ground and the body weight is supported by the other leg and foot [1]. It involves three swing phases.

  • Initial swing: As your foot leaves the ground, you’ll experience dorsiflexion in the forefoot as it rolls in slightly. The knee then flexes to allow for optimal clearance of the foot over the ground. 
  • Mid-swing: The ankle will maintain a neutral position while the knee begins to extend. 
  • Late swing: This occurs when the swing leg tibia is vertical and ends with its contact with the ground. The hip remains flexed and the knee will extend before flexing slightly ahead of the initial contact. 

While these are the two main cycles in running gait, there’s also the float or flight phase, which is unique to running. When walking, you’ll always have one foot in contact with the ground. In running, however, there’s a time when both feet are in the air and the body isn’t in contact with the ground.

Ultimately, those with good running biomechanics make the most of this time by creating more power efficiently on the ground to then extend the duration of the float phase. 

What is a normal running gait?

If you’ve ever watched the athletics racing events at the Olympics and marvelled at Usain Bolt’s powerful stride, Cathy Freeman’s height during the float phase, or the posture of Eliud Kipchoge that allows him to keep a relaxed arm swing and strong core for the duration of the marathon, you’ll know that there’s really no such thing as a ‘normal’ running gait.

Each of us will have a unique running style which can be greatly influenced by distance, speed, and terrain. Even so, several elements can be improved for better running form and enhanced performance. 

Focus on cadence

Otherwise known as the number of steps taken per minute as you run, it’s believed that the ideal running cadence is around 180spm, although anything above 170spm is good. This will help avoid heel-striking which occurs when overstriding. 

Keep your shoulders relaxed

Arm swing is just as important as what your legs are doing, and you want to avoid rotations in your trunk or hunching your shoulders as you run.

Keep your elbows bent at a 90-degree angle and swing your arms from your folders forward and backward while ensuring your hands are relaxed. 

Maintain a slight lean

A strong core is imperative for running as it helps to improve balance and reduce the risk of injury. You want to maintain a tall posture, but having a slight lean will help propel your body forward. 

Why is it important?

Now that we know the all-encompassing analysis of biomechanics that’s achieved with running gait analysis, the importance of such an assessment can’t be overstated.

By its nature, running involves a high level of repetitive force that’s placed on the body, starting at the point of foot contact with the ground which then travels up the shin, through the knee, and further up the body.

Research suggests the ground reaction force is 2.5-3 times an individual’s body weight, with calf muscles taking up to 8 times your body weight [2].

As a result, understanding foot strike, loading, stride length, cadence, and postural alignment can greatly reduce your risk of injury, particularly when it comes to overuse injuries sustained through repetitive loading.

This isn’t just limited to lower limb injuries like shin splints or hamstring tendinopathy. If you’re finding your lower back hurts after a run, it might be that an anterior pelvic tilt is causing parts of your body to compensate, resulting in tightness and pain in other areas.  

As well as reducing the risk of injury, running gait analysis can also enhance performance. By focusing on improving your gait, you’ll become more efficient and economical in your running, preserving energy so you can increase speed [3].

It can also be used to select the right running shoes for exercising, as an analysis of your foot’s interface with the ground can be used to choose shoes that best suit your gait and running needs. 

What is a running gait analysis?

Running gait analysis refers to the mechanics of your running style. Often, our feet can be landing in a way that puts us at greater risk of injury. Yet, it’s only through running gait analysis that we become aware of such things as it allows us to see every component of the movement, such as foot contact placement and length of stride. 

By offering various angles and views of an individual’s running technique, running gait analysis can identify weaknesses, strengths, and imbalances in our movement patterns. These may be in the following areas:

  • Trunk rotation: Is it excessively rotating with each stride?
  • Pelvis rotation: Is it rotation forward excessively with each stride?
  • Arm swing: Are the arms crossing the middling of the body, extending behind the torso, or flexing ahead?
  • Head positioning: Is your head upright and stable or moving excessively from side to side? 
  • Foot placement: Is your foot landing in front of your body, is it excessively rolled in or out, and does it land inside the width of your pelvis or further away? 
  • Point of impact: Is your knee bent upon landing?

By gaining a greater understanding of our biomechanics and potential deviations from the ideal technique, running gait analysis is an invaluable tool — this is why we use it as a diagnostic tool in Compound's program (more on that later).

By identifying those areas of imbalance and then developing strategies to improve them, running gait analysis can greatly improve running performance and reduce the risk of injuries that may arise due to our biomechanics, such as stress fractures, shin splints, or patellar tendonitis [4].

How is a running gait analysis conducted?

Traditionally, a running gait assessment is conducted with a video examination of you running on a treadmill for a minute or so. Using slow motion, experts will focus on your foot's initial contact with the ground to see how the foot lands. The swing phase and stance phase will also be analysed to see your head positioning, posture, forward propulsion, and knee flexes from multiple angles.

While this process can offer valuable insights, advances in technology mean running gait analysis has become even more accurate. Scanning technology is also used to check for any imbalances or asymmetry in your stride.

Equipped with sensors, scanners can detect loading patterns and movement efficiency to understand what muscles are placed under great load and if there’s a particular side you may be favouring. 

How to improve your running gait

If a running gait analysis identifies imbalances or weaknesses in your biomechanics, know that it can take time to correct them. This can be the most challenging part of the process, as it involves breaking habits and can result in decreased performance in the short term.

Slow and steady progression

Changes to your running form don’t occur overnight, particularly when it comes to breaking bad habits you've had for months or years. Like learning a new skill, improving your running gait requires patience, effort, and lots of practice. 

Research suggests that adopting multiple changes in your biomechanics can result in no improvements or worsened running economy, so it’s best to approach any changes one at a time and then assess the difference as you go.

For example, if you need to increase your cadence, raise it by a few steps per minute each week rather than making a sudden jump. This gradual approach allows your body to adapt without causing undue stress.

Ultimately, you don’t want to overcomplicate things. Avoid over-striding by focusing on increasing your steps per minute and staying relaxed in your arm swing and shoulders with a tall posture. 

Strength training

It's not just about making changes to your running — resistance and stretching exercises can help address weaknesses and imbalances that contribute to poor form.

Focus specifically on the core, hips, and glutes, as their strength is crucial for maintaining a stable and efficient stride.

Reassess regularly

Gait analysis isn't a one-time fix; it's an ongoing process. Revisit your running form and mechanics every couple of months, particularly after making significant changes. This will ensure that you stay on track and can continue to make improvements.

Preventative healthcare starts now

Now that we know what running gait analysis is, it’s clear that anyone can benefit — no matter your fitness level or running ability. Looking to achieve peak performance? Meet Compound, we're a digital clinic for performance health. Once the exclusive domain of billionaires and Hollywood stars, we're on a mission to make premium concierge care accessible to every man who wants more.

Equipped with leading diagnostic reporting that includes running gait analysis, Compound’s team of dedicated healthcare professionals and expert specialists is guaranteed to help you access the future of proactive healthcare and reach your health goals. 

Running gait analysis is used as part of our diagnostics as it lets us survey two things — one is running ecnomony (we can advise if you're running ineffciently and expending more energy than needed) and the second is around safety and if you're running in a way that presents an injury risk.

It also provides insight into strength imbalances present in the lower chain and where your injury vulnerabilities lie. This information is used to tailor a personalised prehab program to help avoid injury and increase performance.

We take a multi-disciplinary approach to health optimisation and preventative care to help men unlock barriers to everyday performance. Our team of dedicated healthcare professionals and expert specialists are here to help you access the future of proactive healthcare, today.

Follow our journey
We have capacity for a limited number of early members. Sign up now or stay up to date.

Ready to optimise for success?

Join the waitlist and we'll be in touch when our next cohort opens. In the meantime, we'll add you to our weekly newsletter where we deep dive into a topic of interest in the health and performance space.

You'll also receive a reading list of what we're keeping our eye on at Compound HQ as well as news and product updates as our offering progresses.