If you are a runner, regardless of whether you run on a treadmill, track, or trail, you most likely have wondered about your running form and what you can do to improve your performance.
A run analysis with a physical therapist can give you helpful insight into your running gait and how you can optimize your running performance. Though a run analysis looks at several aspects of your running gait, there are three factors that are particularly important in improving your running form:
Cadence refers to the number of steps you take per minute. Most people, when having their run analyzed, take about 160 steps per minute however research has shown the ideal cadence to work towards is 180 steps per minute.
There are several apps out there that use metronomes to determine the amount of steps you take per minute. One of the best apps for this is RunTempo which will play the beat behind music and also has a convenient timer with an automatic shut off. If you are looking to fine tune your cadence, it may be helpful to start jogging with the app at the start of your run to help you get into a rhythm.
If achieving this cadence is difficult or impossible it may be a strength issue. In this case, a running analysis would be helpful in identifying weak muscles through the lower extremities. A physical therapist can take this information and determine a program to help you increase your strength.
2. Foot Strike
Foot strike refers to what part of the foot that touches the ground first when striding forward. People will either strike with their heel, midfoot, or forefoot (toe running). While it really doesn’t matter where the foot strikes there are some considerations to note.
Typically, those who have midfoot contact suffer from fewer running related injuries such as knee pain, cramping and shin splints. With an increased cadence both heel strikers and forefoot strikers will move towards a midfoot contact point by landing with the foot and ankle underneath the hip. If the foot is too far in front of the hip, forces are increased throughout the body, increasing the risk of running related injuries. Usually if cadence is low, increasing the number of steps per minute will naturally move the foot underneath the hip.
During a run analysis, your running gait will be filmed from the side to determine what type of foot strike you have. If your physical therapist determines that you may benefit from a change in foot strike, they will work with you to best transition your running gait.
Making meaningful changes to your running gait are irrelevant if the muscles are not strong enough to tolerate the forces of running. It is important to strengthen the muscles in the leg (calves, quads, hamstrings) and around the pelvis (glutes and core).
Having strong enough muscles to withstand running will help maintain a neutral pelvis and will keep the hips, knee and ankle in good alignment. A lot of runners tend to ONLY run but it is important to practice strength training at least 2-3 times a week. Running is a repetitive motion and the body responds better when changing up loads and movement patterns.
While weakness is dependent on the individual, try a few of these important exercises during your next strengthening routine.
- Step downs
- Speed skaters/band walks
- Balance (cone taps)
- Single leg heel raises
- Hamstring curls on the ball
- Plank/side plank
A running analysis can give you valuable insight into your current running gait and beneficial changes you can make to improve your performance and reduce your risk for injury. If you have questions about your running form or are looking for additional resources to improve your running, contact our clinic for a run analysis with one of our physical therapists.