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For triathletes searching for the cause of a chronic injury or simply a way to improve their run, a gait analysis may be the most accurate way to pinpoint inefficiencies and weaknesses in running form that could be hindering performance.
Jason Havey, a former collegiate runner, struggled with chronic hamstring issues before getting his gait analyzed. “They said that I was leaning back too much and striking out in front of my body, effectively putting on the brakes with each foot strike,” he says. A simple change in form, along with a structured strength program, made all the difference. “I saw immediate improvement, and my hamstring was soon healed,” he says.
Growing in popularity, gait analyses are now offered at medical clinics, health clubs, running and triathlon shops, and by individual trainers and coaches. Athletes who were analyzed with the popular analysis software Dartfish won more than 400 medals at the London 2012 Olympics, including Usain Bolt. There are even websites, such as Runninganalysisonline.com, that allow you to upload a video of yourself running to be assessed remotely. Although the abundance of options, which run from $25 to upward of $500, makes such analyses easy to find, it doesn’t ensure legitimacy. If you’re thinking about getting your gait looked at, check the analyzer’s experience, credentials and educational background.
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• Identify functional deficits, such as core weakness, that could be the root of a recurring injury.
• Correct form issues, although Minneapolis-based podiatrist Dr. Paul Langer advises to tread carefully when messing with your gait. “Some research is showing that it can be an important form of biofeedback to help change movement patterns, but it needs to be done carefully and with someone who understands biomechanics and the possible consequences of alterations in gait,” he emphasizes.
• Provide guidance on footwear decisions. A gait analysis can examine the differences in your form and efficiency depending on what shoes you’re wearing. Even still, Langer says that what a gait expert sees isn’t always more important than what the runner feels in a particular pair of shoes. (Be sure to wear shoes you’re familiar with during an analysis, since new footwear can temporarily cause you to adopt a slightly new form.)
How it works
Usually conducted on a treadmill, some use software and cameras, while others fully rely on a trained eye. Ideally, a test facility will provide both. While every athlete is different, Langer usually looks at biomechanical issues and movement patterns that may be contributing to injury, as well as considering footwear interventions. The assessment begins with the runner offering an injury history, as well as information regarding goals, footwear and current training.
Next comes the physical exam to determine things like strength, range of motion, balance and functional movement. This also includes a footwear assessment. Following a warm-up, the videotaped analysis begins, filming the runner from different angles as he runs at a self-selected pace. Afterward the athlete and clinician typically review the video, and the clinician makes determinations based on the analysis.
“Should I get one?”
Yes, if you …
• Want to improve form—and thereby performance
• Have a reoccurring running injury. Note: You should wait until your injury has healed to get a gait analysis.