Friday, February 10, 2012

Gait Analysis

I belong to a local running group that called the Kalamazoo Area Runners and one of the perks of running with their winter training program is being able to attend free clinics from time to time. Last night I attended a gait analysis and core strength clinic.

Ever since I started running long distance in high school people have comented on my running form. Not in good ways either. They didn't have horrible things to say, just that it was different, flawed and definitely unique. One thing I remember hearing most often was that my right foot would kick out to the side as my leg came back, another mention was that my knees almost touch each other every stride. Needless to say I was ready for the guy doing the clinic to have a laundry list of problems but this wouldn't be necesarily a bad thing. I was looking forward to finding out how I can improve.

I've been looking at pictures of me running and I couldn't really find any good side profiles to display what I'm talking about so you'll have to use your imagination. If you want to see what good form (according to some) looks like, a quick google search for Ryan Hall running will give you plenty to watch.

The gait analysis went like this. I ran on a treadmill at long run pace (7:30) while being observed by a guy named Mark. I ran for about 7- 10 minutes and he watched from the side, front and back observing all aspects from my posture, to my arm swing to my leg movement. Sometimes when you have this done they'll actually video tape you (and you can do that yourself on a treadmill) so you can watch the video back and actually see what they're seeing.

Here's a list of the things he went over while I was running:
  • Posture
  • Arm Swing
  • Foot Strike
  • Cadence
With good running form you should have good posture. You should be able to draw a plumb line from your ear through the center of your shoulder, to the center of your hip, through your knee all the way to the ball of your foot. If you heard someone say you should lean forward when you run, they're right *but* the lean should take place at your ankles not your waist! A slight lean is what helps give you your speed and keep your momentum forward.
Your shoulders should be relaxed and not creeping up and tense. Nice and square with your hips. He also mentioned that it's normal for the shoulder of your dominant hand to be ever so slightly dipped lower than the other. As he said this I noticed in the mirror ahead of me that this was true haha.

He said my posture was right on; POINT ME!

Arm Swing
Your arms should be moving forward and back, not side to side. If you imagine a center line protruding from you navel to sternum, your arms should never cross it. Your arms should make roughly a 90 degree bend at the elbow and your hands should move from hip to mid/low chest level.

He noted that while I don't cross the center line I do swing a little more side to side than forward and back. I also don't come all the way down to my hip and if I were to do that I could develop more power. Mark pointed out that I should watch the videos of Ryan Hall for a good example and that Ryan says he trys to brush his thumb against the outside of his hip as it comes back. This is a good reminder and way to check if you're coming back far enough. I've got work to do!

Foot Strike
As your foot contacts the ground it should be close to your center of gravity. Remember that plumb line you ran from your ear to the ball of your foot? There's your center of gravity. You should land on the ball of your foot, not your toes and not your heel. When you land on your toes, it adds time as the rest of your foot contacts the ground before springing back up. Heel striking actually acts as a brake sending all of the force of your landing up through your knees and your quads and can start to cause unnecesary stress on the joints musceles.

Mark told me what I kind of assumed. I have a slight midfoot to heel strike. He said it wasn't bad but the closer I can get to the mid strike the better. He cautioned trying to use minimalist shoes and lower drop shoes too quickly as a way to counteract heel strike though because making the jump too quickly can lead to big problems like plantar fasciitis among other injuries.

So how do I fix my heel strike? One thing he mentioned is that when I bring my foot back I only come about knee high. If I work on bringing it back farther to just below my butt, I will not only lengthen my stride but it will also help fix the foot strike. He mentioned that a lot of times when people try to lengthen their strides they do it in front of their bodies by over striding and this causes a big time heel strike.... Kind of like this:
Notice how my heel is the first thing to touch the ground? This is no bueno. This was taken at the end of the Riverbank Run last spring as I was trying to stride it out and pick up speed. Now I know I should have been pulling back farther instead of pushing forward more.
Mark said working on pulling my hand back to my hip will help with pulling my legs back farther too so I can work on two things at once.

I've heard from a few different sources that good cadence for a distance runner is 180 foot strikes per minute. The easiest way to calculate it is to count the amount of time your right foot hits the ground for 30 seconds then multiply that by 4.
I didn't count mine last night so I'll have to check that during my next run.

While observing from the front and back while I was running Mark pointed out how close my knees get. He says this could be do to tight hip flexors and week glute muscles. He pointed out a few of the core exercises that they went over in the strength clinic that I should focus on to strengthen my butt muscles as this should help rotate my knees out more so they go forward and back instead of diagnoly into each other *fail*. I asked him about my foot kicking out to the side which apparently has gotten somewhat better over the years because it wasn't nearly as noticeable in the mirror as I knew it used to be. He said this was related to the knee issue; as my leg comes back the foot goes out and then when it comes forward it angles in so If I strenthen my glutes it will help straighten things out.

So I've got a few things to focus on during tomorrow's long run and subsequent long and easy runs. Arms forward; not side to side. Hip to mid chest. forward and back. Landing with a midstrike by pulling  my foot back farther in my stride and not pushing forward and overextending out in front of my body. Strenghten that ass! Besides the fact that it might help fill out the tights during these winter runs it will help fix my stride. Form and function!

Here a website that gives some more insight and probably better information about proper form.

Good Form Running - This is really the best and they cover everything from above and depending on where you live they offer classes at a lot of specialty running stores where they'll actually do a video analysis for you!

*disclaimer* I'm not a doctor, professional, or in any other way qualified to offer advice on what you should do for your running form. I'm simply passing along infromation that was passed on to me. For proper coaching and technique I recommend checking out the Good Form Running website posted above. But that's just my oppinion.

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