Running Gait Training - what does it all mean?
I am often asked about the ‘best way to run’ forefoot, heel strike, somewhere in the middle? Head down, up, stretching for the finish? There is a lot of advice around. I generally start by finding out about how much running a person does and how comfortable they are with those runs. Fast, comfortable, fit – nailed it. Carry on. Painful feet or knees? Struggling with distance – then let’s take a look…
Which part of my foot should I land on when running? Or does it depend on the pace/distance?
People often discuss ‘good running technique’ but there is little definition as to what this truly is. Mainly, because everybody is different. Flexibility and mixed training is good practice for runners and their technique. To understand why this is the case, we need to talk a little about the phases of running.
The techy bit – the phases of running
Getting straight to it – the loading phase. Ideally the runner should place the mid or forefoot on the ground. This is so that the heel doesn’t take too much of an impact (which may cause injury) and also slow the runner down! Naturally, as we speed up and slow down the foot placement changes, but around midfoot is a good place to aim. The feet need adequate calf and hamstring length to achieve this position. Read: Stretch those muscles to prime them for this phase.
Once on the ground the calf and Achilles’ are stretched and will start to respond by quickly contracting, pushing the foot through the big toe and entering – propulsion phase! Here is where risk of injury is high. So, warm, flexible and responsive Achilles’s can reduce the risk of tendinopathies, injuries and plantar fasciitis. Meanwhile, this footwork is being powered by the hip. The extension of the hip itself is what provides the powerful propulsion and speed. Flexible hip flexors will allow for good extension and reduce wasted energy in excessive trunk movement.
The recovery phase begins once the fully extended hip starts moving forward again. Almost reflexively, the lower leg lifts, the knee leads, and the foot placed underneath the runner (enter quadriceps muscle), ready to start the process again. During all this, the upper body should be upright with a slight forward lean.
Poor flexibility may mean tight and shortened muscles which can result in more injuries, reduced running stride length and a poor recovery phase. This has the bigger picture impact of reducing the ability to train regularly. A review of 27 studies in the British Journal of Sports Medicine found that no single variable can improve running technique and that real-time feedback was most helpful to runners. But, if you can’t afford a mobile gait analysis laboratory or a non-stop chatting physiotherapist to come with you on every run, there are some good apps that may help. Hudl and metrotimer are good for recording your running style and also assisting with cadence training. However, another study following new runners over 10 weeks found that by simply increasing their exposure to running, they naturally improved their technique.
In summary, balancing your running distance with strength and conditioning, flexibility and good living is key to running well, ask a physio to go through some key exercises for your specific running style to achieve whatever goal you fancy!