Gait analysis is an assessment of our running, but how accurate and helpful is it?
As part of our series on Running Form, we asked industry expert Martin Haines some common questions around running terms like gait analysis, running cadence and foot pronation. Here's what he had to say: Gait analysis is an assessment of how you run; it can be as sophisticated as using high speed cameras and analysis software, but it can be as simple as someone watching you run. Both can be of value. The sophisticated methods are accurate enough to be able to help you, but equally an experienced and skilled coach can be very helpful by visually analysing how you run too.
You may also be aware that there are some apps for that too. Do be careful though, don’t change your style based upon a gait analysis that encourages you to run closer to a theoretically ‘correct’ style. Your anatomy and mechanical make-up may suit your current style better than something that is more orthodox or a coach’s preferred teaching method. Make any changes under close supervision and don’t change for change sake.
It's suggested that everyone should have a cadence of 180 strides per minute to prevent knee injuries, is this true?
Actually, 180 cadence (number of strides per minute or stride frequency) is supposed to be the ideal cadence for optimal running at elite level, but this is meant as a “barometer not a governor” (Hailey Middlebrook, Runner’s need 2019).Whether there is an injury risk reduction is not clear.
This cadence is based upon some anecdotal observations by legendary coach Jack Daniels as far back as 1984. Then a paper by Burns et al in 2019* suggested that while this is an average cadence for many elite level distance runners (in fact Burns found it was 182 in his test cohort), cadence seems to be dependent upon the speed you run and your height. The quicker you run, the higher your cadence (the greater number of steps you take per minute) and the taller you are, the lower your cadence (less number of steps required per minute as you can take fewer steps per minute to cover the same distance).
Weight, age, speed and running experience did not seem to be relevant. You may also consider that cadence would likely depend upon your type of foot strike, any leg length discrepancies, hip mobility, calf mobility, nerve mobility in the back of your leg or even spinal mobility. So, your cadence can be used to benchmark improvement, but there is no evidence to suggest that a higher cadence means you are more likely to prevent injury.
What if I’ve been told I pronate and have been advised to wear shoes to help support the arch of my foot?
The term pronation and its relevance to running performance and injury prevention is still not fully understood. Pronation is a rolling of the foot inwards and its part of the shock absorbing mechanism when your foot lands on the floor; along with movement from your ankles, knees, hips and spine.
That’s the easy bit, the difficulty is establishing how much pronation is right for each individual. There are some runners who seem to have a lot of pronation but who rarely get injured and others who seem to have much less pronation are injured frequently – clearly there is more to it than simply the amount of pronation.
The consensus from the recognised experts seems to be that if you are not getting injured frequently then there is no need to interfere with your pronation – and even if you are getting injured more than you would like, there may be other areas that you would look to address first anyway. This may include areas such as your pelvis, a dysfunction in which can create an apparent leg length discrepancy. This may not be an issue in itself, but your foot may alter its amount of pronation to accommodate the leg length discrepancy – so any apparent pronation issues may simply be a compensation from higher up the leg.
Perhaps you can see how correcting the problem at the foot in this example could be counterproductive. There are many more examples which can get quite complicated, so get checked out by someone who is an expert in the field before you change your shoes to support your arch or reduce your pronation.
Anti pronator shoes or ‘corrective’ insoles do have their place and can help runners, but make sure they’re necessary and are prescribed at the right time. Also note that insoles are often temporary measures to offload an injured structure until it has healed and your rehab is completed, they can then often be removed or at least the support reduced.
Martin Haines, DipRGRT MCSP SRP IBAM
Founder and Director Brytspark Limited
About Martin Haines:
If you'd like to read more on our Running Form series, check out Martin's articles 'Running Form - Is it Really Important?'
Martin Haines is a Biomechanics Coach and Chartered Physiotherapist. He has worked at the highest level in Professional Football, International Rugby, McLaren Formula 1 Racing, professional skiing and with Olympic athletes. In the field of elite sport, Martin is currently engaged as Advisor to the European Tour Medical Advisory Board.
*Burns GT, Zendler JM, Zernicke RF. Step frequency patterns of elite ultramartathon runners during a 100km road race. J Appl. Physiol (1985). 2019 Feb 1;126(2):462-468.