Even though running is one of the most common forms of exercise, we all do it a little differently. Not surprising when we all have different heights, weights, ages, body types and levels of experience.
All those factors make your running gait unique to you, but there are still some best practices for putting one foot in front of the other that can help you run farther, faster and, most importantly, lower your risk for injury.
Amy Harrison, an athletic trainer with the OhioHealth Runner’s Clinic, shares some tips for getting the most out of your gait.
Strengthen your hips
If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know we’ve explained time and time again that the key to healthy legs is strong hips. The same applies to a healthy running gait, says Harrison. “We see a lot of people whose pelvis drops more on one side than the other as they run, which is a sign of hip weakness. When your hip juts out, it can place pressure on your knee and ankle and lead to injury over time. At the Runner’s Clinic, we help runners strengthen their gluteus muscles to correct the drop.” At home, adding a leg workout to your running routine that includes body-weight exercises and resistance bands can help you build hip strength.
“Adults tend to be tight,” says Harrison. “We sit a lot and don’t stretch as much as we should.” She says that this leads to tightness of the muscles in the legs, hips and back that can restrict movement – in particular your calves, hamstrings, hip flexors and piriformis. “We like to see a runner’s hip extend at push-off and their lead knee go close to straight before their foot strikes the ground underneath their body. Stretching these muscle groups will help open up your gait and help your knee extend properly at the front of your stride, allowing you to cover more ground.” Good stretches for these muscle groups are easy to find online, but you may want to have a yoga mat handy if your house has hard flooring.
If you want to get started today, here’s a helpful guide of stretches and exercises Harrison recommends.
Hit a high cadence
“We like to see a running cadence between 170 and 180 steps per minute, which surprises a lot of runners,” says Harrison, “Low cadence can cause a runner to overreach and land with their foot too far in front of their body. Overreaching increases impact, which can lead to injuries. A higher cadence may make your stride feel shorter, but it moves you naturally toward a more efficient running style. Even as your speed increases, your cadence usually doesn’t change.”
You can run with a metronome app or load a high-bpm workout track on your phone to keep you on pace. If your cadence is low, Harrison recommends starting around 170 – increasing by more than 10 percent can be too much too fast. “When we have runners in the clinic who have low cadence, we do some drills to get them into range.”
Reduce unnecessary movements
Harrison says while you’re running, especially longer distances, you want to eliminate any unnecessary movements that waste energy. “Some runners shift their trunks too much from side to side, or they overrotate their torso or excessively move their arms. We want to conserve all of that energy and direct it into forward motion.” She says strengthening your core, particularly your trunk and hip stabilizer muscles, will improve stability by reducing unnecessary movement.
Consider a Professional Evaluation
At the Runner’s Clinic, Harrison performs an in-depth gait analysis by recording runners on treadmills from several angles. “We get camera views of runners from the side and back, along with a close up of their feet. It’s part of our full-body biomechanics screening. If we see something that increases risk of injury or impedes performance, we work to correct it with stretches, strength exercises and running drills.” Here’s an example of what these videos look like.
Harrison says the clinic team also performs a shoe evaluation and provides nutritional recommendations. “We try to give our runners everything they need to improve their performance in one visit.”
To schedule a visit to the OhioHealth Runner’s Clinic, call (614) 566-1RUN.