How to Analyze Running Gait & Biomechanics to Improve Performance

In addition to providing a popular way to decompress for many people, running is an essential factor in many athletic pursuits. From track to marathons to sports ball and beyond, the ability to run is one prized by a significant percentage of the population.

It is not, however, an easy pursuit. Running is known for creating injuries that are hard to heal. It’s also hard on the joints, especially when one lacks the proper footwear. Luckily, there’s something you can do about that.

Instead of relying on willpower to “tough it out,” an increasing number of athletes, hobby runners, as physicians and coaches, we are turning to science for solutions. Gait analysis is one of the most promising athletic tools to come out of recent decades, allowing doctors and researchers to turn purely visual diagnoses into exceptionally detailed, evidence-based decisions.

It requires a thorough understanding of biomechanics and gait analysis to see how this applies to a clinic, sports field or personal pursuit.

Here’s how it works.


What Are Biomechanics?

Merriam-Webster defines biomechanics as “the mechanics of biological and especially muscular activity (as in locomotion or exercise).” adds that it is “the study of the action of external and internal forces on the living body, especially on the skeletal system.”

In other words, biomechanics tells us about the movement of the body as it pertains directly to the musculoskeletal system. Every movement, rotation, point of pressure and exertion of effort that goes into standing, walking, running, lifting, straining, pushing, pulling – any bodily force exerted by or on the body – falls under this umbrella.

The same is true, of course, when it comes to running.


What Does Running Have to Do with Biomechanics?

If you’re a runner or you work with them, it doesn’t take much thought to see why biomechanics matters. You likely already know about many of the issues associated with running and biomechanics, including:

  • Stride length: How much distance each stride covers;
  • Vertical oscillation: How much the body’s center of mass moves around while running;
  • Knee angle: How much it bends while running;
  • Arm and shoulder motion: The ways in which these impact speed and efficiency; and
  • Foot movement: The angle and flexibility of the foot while it leaves the ground.

These not only have implications for the long-term health of the runner, but also oxygen economy. As studies show, “Running economy, which has traditionally been measured as the oxygen cost of running at a given velocity, has been accepted as the physiological criterion for 'efficient' performance and has been identified as a critical element of overall distance running performance.”

If a runner wants to increase their speed and decrease their risk of injury, therefore, they need to know whether they are making the most efficient biomechanical choices with each stride. This is as true for athletes on the field as it is for long-distance runners and everyone in between.

While many factors make up a running economy, it all starts with gait. The gait phases of running include two main parts:

  1. The stance phase: loading response, midstance, terminal stance and pre-swing, when the foot is on the ground and bears the weight of the other leg.
  2. The swing phase: initial swing, knee flexion, mid-swing and terminal swing, when the foot is moving through the air as the body puts its weight on the grounded leg.

If either of these is off, running performance suffers and the likelihood of injury increases. That’s why it becomes important to get extremely detailed information about what is occurring in both phases.

So … just how do we gather such information?


What Is Running Gait Analysis?

Running gait analysis is both a qualitative and a quantitative process. On the qualitative side, physicians, coaches or footwear experts will assess the runner’s natural stride, looking for potential issues. These include pronation, limping, correct heel strike and toe off, and so on.

Many of these are visually apparent to a trained expert. As such, gait analysis isn’t a particularly new science. However, that doesn’t hold a candle to the type of information one can gather using today’s intelligent sensing technology.

Using quantitative metrics, we can now see where a runner is applying pressure – both in the right places and the wrong ones. We can also tell how an injury has changed an athlete’s stride, and see where adjustment is needed for full rehabilitation. If the patient is suffering an ongoing issue (say, spasms or a sore), gait analysis can determine how it is affecting performance.

With these metrics in hand, it’s much easier to assign the proper footwear. That makes it easier to heal from current conditions, and it makes new ones less likely – either from the same condition or a new one.

How do you get those scientifically based metrics, then?


Tools for Gait Analysis

There exist several tools for gait analysis, but perhaps the most important one available today is a gait motion system using intelligent insoles. These are indistinguishable from regular insoles except for their purpose.

Easy to use, subtle and accurate, gait motion insoles allow professionals to see exactly what’s going on inside the shoe – both as a 3D model and a stream of useful information. Because the sensor nets embedded in the insoles are so minimal, the runner won’t even notice they’re there. And because they are equipped with wireless technology, you can say goodbye to cumbersome cords that inevitably corrupt the data.

Just like that, you’ve got a raft of cutting-edge tools at your fingertips. These will enable you to:

  • Diagnose running problems more accurately than ever before;
  • Gather meaningful data to incorporate into treatment plans;
  • Prescribe the right exercises and footwear to minimize injury; and
  • Stop relying on limited human vision for your answers.

Would you like to learn more about how gait and motion research insoles can improve running performance, team success and clinical accuracy?

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