Should you change your running gait?
“If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.”
Everyone thinks that they know how to run because they have been doing it for most of their lives. Toddlers and little kids run around awkwardly but become more coordinated later on and it is obvious that not everyone one that picks up a bat or golf club knows how to hit correctly. We know that some kids can naturally throw a ball hard, but they can still learn to develop more velocity by working proper technique. Efficient mechanics can also help an athlete avoid injury, regardless if you are talking about a person swinging a club, freestyle swimming or running.
Now don’t get me wrong, not EVERYONE needs to change their running gait. There are plenty of people who just don’t run “correctly” but they don’t have any problems. There are other people who have gait compensations for another issue, like a short leg or tibial torsion, and those people don’t necessarily need to change their gait. If you are constantly getting injured or if you can’t break a PR, you should realize that you may need to look at your running gait.
If you keep getting hurt, then you need to look at your mileage. As I stated in my last article, one question that you need to answer honestly is whether or not you are overtraining. You can overtrain based on running too far, running too fast or not recovering properly. Running 6 to 7 days a week is probably too much for even more experienced runners, unless you are an elite runner training for the Olympic trials. Overtraining will lead to injury, which will decrease the amount that you’re able to run and end up kill your VO2 max and really setting you back. But overtraining is not the only way that people get injured while running.
Poor form can lead to injury regardless of the sport or occupation. Poor biomechanics over time will cause a volleyball hitter to develop rotator cuff tendonitis or tendonosis, or something worse. Poor running biomechanics repeated thousands of times per run will cause problems as well. How many times can you bend the pull tab back and forth on a beer can before the tab snaps off? At the very least, all runners should be aware of how they run and this is especially true if you are predisposed for injury.
One of the ways that gait can be classified depends on how your foot hits the ground. These different foot strikes apply to both walking and running. There is heel strike, midfoot strike, forefoot strike and toe strike. Toe strike is what sprinters do and it is not typically done by walkers and medium to long distance runners. Sprinting is a whole other animal and there are facilities in the Toledo area that can help you with that. Heel (or rearfoot) strike is where your heel hits the ground first and you roll through the rest of your foot to push off. Forefoot strike is where the ball of your foot hits the ground first, your weight drops onto your heel and then you lift your heel again and push off. Mid-foot strike is where the ball of your foot hits at the same time as your heel and then you lift your heel and push off.
As I said, all runners should be aware of how they run. If you don’t know how your foot hits the ground when you are running, you can to figure this out for yourself or you can go to somebody who is trained on how to evaluate running gait. If you’re going to do it yourself, get set up so that you can take a video (or even a slowmo video on your phone) from the side, from the front and from the back. Take a video from the side focusing on where your feet will land and zoom it in on your feet. Focusing on the feet is important, but you also need to take a look at the rest of the body when you running. If you have been running for any period of time, you probably know what decent form looks like to you, but you have probably never seen your own. While you not might not be trained in gait analysis, you still will probably be able to figure out if something does not look right.
Heel striking is typically associated with energy leaks (energy not directed toward pushing you forward) and a multitude of foot and ankle problems. Heel striking is associated with longer strides, which is what most people do to try increase speed. Mid-foot striking and forefoot striking are associated with the minimalist/barefoot running movement and have less loading in the foot and ankle, but more in the calf and Achilles tendon. I am not saying that people need to run barefoot, but changing to use the minimalist style is beneficial for many runners. Notice that I am not suggesting that people need to change your shoes either. You do not need to be in minimalist shoes to use a forefoot or mid foot strike, but if you decided to try minimalist shoes, your foot needs have a certain amount of strength/competence beforehand.
Other things to look for in your running gait is excessive bobbing up and down or side to side when you run because these are energy leaks or power leaks. cross-over gait is another thing, where your feet land in-line with each other or even where some people have their feet land on the side opposite of the stance leg. Like your right leg lands under your left hip as an extreme example. These are several things that will steal energy and efficiency from your runs.
Now, the issue is that changing your running gait does have the potential to give you new problems so it is not something that should not be taken lightly. If you have been running “wrong” for years with thousands of miles in your running shoes and you have not had any problems, don’t mess with it. And remember that this is never something to play with during the season or right before a race because you need to experiment and practice to figure out what you are doing. While it is possible to try to change your gait on your own, I would not recommend it.
If you have been having pain or problems during or after runs, you should find a healthcare professional who specializes in runners, like a sports chiropractor, to do a proper examination and help you sort it out. Assessment of your running gait (and your running shoes) should be part of your evaluation. This sports medicine specialist may or may not be able to help you to change your running gait and foot strike. You can also get a a running coach to evaluate your form and there are even online coaches where you can upload video for them to analyze. Another option is to use resources from the Pose Method or Chi Running as they have both books and online content that is available.
I know that running gait can be a touchy subject and there is much debate about what it the best way to run. The truth is that everyone is different and has a different history of injuries and anatomical variations. There are pros and cons to each running style but you need to know what yours is in the first place.
Article Featured in Toledo Roadrunners Club Footprints – Volume 45, Issue 1 (January 2019)
MORE INFORMATION ABOUT DR. ROYER
Dr. Bryan D. Royer has been practicing chiropractic medicine in the Toledo area since 2005. He has a specialty in Sports Medicine and is a Certified Chiropractic Sports Physician® (CCSP®). Dr. Royer is certified as a Graston Technique® Specialist (GTS), a Certified Kinesio Taping Practitioner™ (CKTP™) and a Corrective Exercise Specialist (CES). He is also a Board-Certified Chiropractic Neurologist and he has been voted “Best in Toledo” by readers of the Toledo City Paper five times.
Photo Credit: Eadweard Muybridge. Animal locomotion: an electro-photographic investigation of consecutive phases of animal movements. 1872-1885. USC Digital Library, 2010.