Whether you run competitively or for fun, understanding your biomechanics, or how the different parts of your body move together, can make you aware of weaknesses, imbalances or inefficiencies in your performance. Examining your stride, your muscle strength and being more conscious of the surface you train on could lower your risk for a running-related injury.

A gait analysis gives you information about your running stride

Research published in the American Journal of Sports Medicine found that reducing the landing shock of one’s strides — running softer — might help prevent running injuries. The study looked at 320 novice runners and assigned them to either a gait-retraining group with real-time, visual feedback or a control group that ran on a treadmill with no visual feedback on performance. Researchers later tracked the injuries of participants in both groups over the next year. The runners in the two-week gait-retraining program experienced a 62 percent decrease in running-related musculoskeletal injuries.1 

“Increasing your stride turnover rate will lead you to run with quicker, shorter steps,” said Ally Stone, LAT, licensed athletic trainer and performance enhancement specialist with the Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin Performance Enhancement Program (PEP). “When your foot contacts the ground quicker, this decreases the force your joints have to absorb. This can also help you become a more efficient runner.”

Stone suggests a musculoskeletal evaluation, video gait analysis and strength and conditioning exercises to improve landing mechanics. She also recommends running on a treadmill to the beat of a metronome (there are plenty of free running apps with this feature) to become more aware of your cadence.

“Any changes to your stride should be gradual,” Stone said. “Your goal should be to adjust no more than five to 10 percent at a time. At that rate, you’ll enhance performance while keeping injury risk low.”

Your biomechanics impact your running style

Your foot strike pattern has a lot to do with where your body absorbs the landing shock of your stride. Foot strike refers to how you land on your foot each time you take a step.

There are three different foot strikes:

  • Midfoot strike: heel and ball of the foot strike the ground simultaneously
  • Heel strike: initial contact with the ground occurs at the heel
  • Forefoot strike: initial contact with the ground occurs at the ball of the foot

“Each runner will have a unique foot strike pattern depending on individual factors such height, weight, muscle strength and even the type of running he or she normally does,” Stone said. “For example, the majority of distance runners are heel strikers, while sprinters are usually forefoot strikers.”

The majority of runners are heel strikers.2 Heel strike runners absorb more impact in the knees, whereas midfoot and forefoot strikers experience this impact most in the ankles. The optimal foot strike to reduce running injury risk is highly contested in the running community. There isn’t enough scientific evidence to say one is superior to another. More randomized control trials investigating different foot strike patterns in relation to running injuries are needed.

Discomfort or pain in the ankle, knee, shin or foot could be reasons to change your foot strike pattern. It is best to seek the help of a professional to assess your gait.

“Shifting your foot strike will go against your body’s natural mechanisms,” Stone said. “It is important to make any change gradually so as not to place added stress on your muscles or joints.”

Build a smart training program

Running injuries are rarely sudden. They are usually overuse injuries caused by repetitive impact. Muscle strains, tendinitis, plantar fasciitis, shin splints and stress fractures all fall into the category of overuse injuries. An overly aggressive training program is one of the most likely reasons for overuse injuries in runners.

“A good rule of thumb is to increase your running mileage by no more than 10 percent each week,” Stone said. “Changing up where you run — treadmill, trail, track — can also be helpful in reducing the load on certain joints.”

Adequate rest between workouts will give your muscles, bones and joints time to recover. Stone recommends supplementing running workouts with strength and conditioning training to prevent injury.

“Our Runners’ Clinic helps all types of runners progress in their strength training and functional training while focusing on injury prevention through research-based methods,” Stone said. “Even professional athletes can have muscle imbalances. Running is not all about the quads or hamstrings; hip movement and core strength can impact form. This is why assessing your running biomechanics is so important.”

For more information about improving athletic performance and injury prevention, visit: froedert.com/pep.

1 https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/0363546517736277

2https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17685722

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