What Is Your Running Gait, And Why It Matters

When you go in to buy a pair of running shoes at your local speciality running store, the shoe fit expert will probably ask you if you’d like a running gait analysis.

He or she will then get you set up on the treadmill and will ask you to run for a minute or two at a comfortable pace. The shoe fit expert may observe you from different angles while simultaneously taking a video recording of you running.

Afterwards, the video can be played back in slow motion, and the expert will point out aspects of your running gait that may need adjustments to optimize the stresses on your feet and legs.

Although most runners can probably relate to this abbreviated explanation of a basic running gait analysis and have experienced it themselves, many runners aren’t completely certain what running gait is and why running gait matters.

What Is Running Gait?

Running gait refers to your running stride or the cycle and motions that your feet and legs travel through when you run. The primary components of your running gait are how and where on your feet you land during each stride, as well as the path in space your legs make as you run.

Why Running Gait Matters

So, why does running gait matter? Are there different types of running gaits? Your running gait matters for two primary reasons: running gait issues can increase the risk of injury and compromise your efficiency and running economy.

Firstly, problems with your running gait can increase the risk of injuries because how and where you land on your feet and how your leg supports your body as you run affects the stresses and strains experienced by your bones, joints, connective tissues, and muscles.

For example, if you are overstriding, you will land on your rear foot instead of your midfoot. Heel striking is associated with a higher risk of injuries because the arch is not in a good position to compress and help absorb the impact stress. 

Moreover, overstriding places greater torque on your hips, knees, and ankles because your centre of mass is too far behind your body.

If you recall back to your days in physics class, the torque going through a joint is a product of the force multiplied by the moment arm or the distance that force is applied from the joint. 

When you overstride, your body weight is well behind the ankle and knee when you land. Therefore, the weight of your body plus gravity is being applied from a greater distance than if your centre of mass was directly over your knee and feet. 

This increases the toque on your joints, which places you at an increased risk of injury. Additionally, when you overstride, the body must decelerate more before moving on to the next stride. This reduces your running economy because you’re losing forward momentum.

Besides overstriding and heel striking, other various running gait abnormalities can increase the risk of running injuries, especially when you consider that running is a repetitive motion and you take about 170-180 steps per minute every minute you run.

Common running gait issues that can increase the risk of injury include overpronation, excessive supination, heel striking, forefoot striking, knees collapsing inward at midstance, shuffling your feet, not swinging the arms enough or crossing the over the midline of the body, pushing off on the outside of the foot, slapping your feet down, hips dropping or collapsing, and more.

In addition to increasing the propensity for overuse injuries, problems with your running gait can reduce your running economy and efficiency, which can compromise your performance and lead to premature fatigue.

For example, overstriding reduce your forward momentum, and excessive vertical oscillation (bouncing) wastes energy. Pushing off from your small toes rather than your big toes minimizes propulsion. 

Although running gait can certainly feel complicated when you’re reading about it and worrying about how you stack up, the good news is that you can typically get the help you need by getting a gait analysis. Most running shoe stores offer a free running gait analysis when you go in to try on shoes.

Not only will the fit expert be able to help identify issues with your running gait, but he or she will also be able to suggest the best type of running shoes to address your specific issues.

In addition to changing your footwear and considering orthotics, it is possible to modify your running gait through deliberate practice once you identify problems.

What is a Gait Analysis?

So, what exactly is a gait analysis? It’s when someone watches you run, but it’s not weird at all! Someone with a ton of experience watching other people run (not doctors specifically) will take an in-depth look at what a runner’s body looks like as they run for a short distance — not just the feet.

Subtle clues in the ankles, knees, hips and even torso can give us a lot of information about what kind of shoes a runner needs and how they might be able to improve their form to prevent injury. It’s a shopping aid, an injury prevention tool, and a little bit of training, all in one. So, pretty sweet deal.

You may have heard of the gait analysis before, and perhaps are imagining a treadmill and at least two people standing behind it, scribbling into notebooks as they look intently at your every step. Super fun for everyone, promise. It’s a legitimate way to do it, but a little outdated thanks to huge leaps forward in camera tech.

Now that high-resolution, slow-motion video can be taken with a smartphone, it’s way easier to record a short video of someone running on a treadmill or on the sidewalk, then run it back in slow-motion to make sure we catch all those subtle movements made by the body while running — as valuable as experience is, it’s awfully hard to notice all those details when watching someone run on a treadmill in real-time. And with video, we can review the footage with you to explain exactly what’s going wrong (or right!) and what can be done to stay healthy.

Pronation, overpronation, or supination?

The word you’ll probably hear most in a gait analysis — is pronation! And absent any prefixes, it’s not a bad thing. When we’re running, we’re absorbing a ton of shock in the foot whenever we strike the ground. 

The foot and ankle move a little to support the body, then push it off to the next step. There needs to be a little flexibility there, so if we see the ankle turn in a little bit during the gait analysis whenever your foot makes contact with the ground, that’s a good thing.

Why get a Gait Analysis?

You’ve given us all the details about what kind of runner you are, you have checked out your gait, and experts come up with some conclusions. What do we actually do with all that information? Well, a big part of it is definitely getting you into the right shoes.

Running shoes are incredibly specialized these days — your gait, your running habits, and your goals all figure heavily into figuring out exactly which pair is right for you. But, a gait analysis can also be instrumental in understanding why certain aches and pains in the legs and back have been cropping up, and in figuring out what you can do (besides getting the right shoes) to help get yourself feeling right again.

I’ve already had a Gait Analysis done — I’m good, right?

Not necessarily. As you have seen, a lot of things can change in the time between a gait analysis and your next pair of running shoes. Ideally, those changes include adding muscle and improving your form, but sometimes it can mean having suffered an injury — running-related or otherwise. 

All of the above can change your gait and change your running shoe needs. Whatever the case, just remember that gait analysis isn’t forever. Instead, think of it like a regular checkup for your feet — it’s a chance to monitor progress, diagnose new problems, and make sure that the conversation between us and you is founded on the most recent information.

After all, just like the rest of your body, some fixes aren’t meant to be permanent. In some cases, stability or rigid orthotics for arch support (a whole other discussion!) end up being temporary measures to help alleviate temporary discomfort or the pain of plantar fasciitis. 

They can be kind of like casts for broken bones — once you’re healed up, that cast isn’t doing anything for you! For runners, unnecessary stability or orthotics can have negative consequences by preventing the foot from strengthening on its own.

If the arch can’t collapse and spring back up while you’re running (a completely natural motion), the foot can become too weak to support itself without the orthotic insert, turning something that should have been a temporary fix into a permanent crutch.

Fortunately, the insert game is changing just as fast as the shoe game. Flexible arch support inserts, from brands like Currex, provide much-needed support when form slips due to fatigue without making the foot dependent on all that structure. 

But, as always, every case is different — in some more serious cases, that kind of rigid support really does become necessary. What’s right for you can change over time, and while getting into the gear you find to be most comfortable is ultimately the most important thing, it’s always good to regularly step back, reevaluate, and reconsider your goals as a runner. Besides, it’s always fun to try new things, right?

The Gait Analysis is a beginning, not an end

When they do a gait analysis for you at a certain place, they’re trying to get you into the right pair of running shoes, first and foremost. But, they don’t believe in just selling you a pair of shoes and sending you on your way. 

There’s so much more to running besides just getting the right gear, and there are some things that (as you can tell), we just won’t be able to see in the gait analysis. 

That’s why they do the gait analysis and a pair of running shoes as a beginning — experts want to be there for you throughout the life of those shoes (and the next ones), helping you to get the most out of your gear.

And sometimes, they just won’t get it right the first time. As good as they are at fitting runners for shoes, it happens.

It’s hard to tell whether or not a shoe works for you until you’ve used it for a few runs (it takes a while for your feet to give you good feedback sometimes). So, if you buy a pair and something’s not feeling right, talk to experts.

 If you feel like returning a pair of shoes you’ve purchased, they can help you figure out whether you need a different pair of shoes or if the solution can be found in making tweaks to your form or by introducing cross-training. 

Everyone’s going to have a different experience, and that’s why they want your experience with a specific shoe store to not end with just a purchase. Getting the right pair of shoes takes work.

At the end of it, we want to make sure that you remember the shoes that got you past the big milestones, whether it’s setting a new PR, letting you have more quality run time with your dog, or conquering your first marathon.

So, talk to an expert and let them know why you run — your habits, your goals, and the things that trip you up. No matter what running means to you, you will be able to use their expertise and gait analysis to help you realize those goals, and maybe even help you discover that you’re capable of much more than you thought.


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