It has been theorized that the human race evolved to run great distances, wearing down our faster prey in the endurance hunt. Since distance running is part of our birthright, it seems odd that we need to learn how to actually do it well. But the sedentary nature of our lives means we all need a little feedback on our form to keep on running. After dealing with nagging chronic injuries for the last couple of months, I jumped at the invitation for a running gait analysis session at the Running Clinic at California Pacific Medical Center — I need some feedback on my form.
Running gait analysis these days involves a bit of technology. I was videoed from multiple angles running on a treadmill — this includes being filmed from behind, an angle that nobody likes. I also ran on a force plate treadmill that took images of my foot-striking pattern (I still heel strike, but not too heavy). Along with the technical elements, I spent one-on-one time with physical therapist / triathlete Julie McCarthy. She tested my muscle strength in my hips and observed my biomechanics in exercises like single leg squats and hopping, but not before asking me my goals in order to put her observations into a larger context. No matter your mileage, the ultimate goal of this session is to keep you running injury and pain free. A well-trained eye can discover easily missed asymmetries, which can lead to overuse injuries — you want to nip bad habits and improper patterning in the bud. The bonus is, as you become a more efficient runner, you also gain speed.
The session ends, not with a diagnosis exactly, but with a series of exercise to help correct your specific problems. I was "prescribed" eight exercises and encouraged to do them at least three times a week, and a few stretches daily. I was also sent home with a DVD of my running tapes — not sure I will be playing them on our large TV anytime soon. The unexpected outcome of this experience was the simple pleasure of having someone take my running seriously. Since running is a solitary act, an outside perspective and interest in your individual running is more than an ego boost. It's really helped me focus my training and upped my commitment level.
The hour-long gait analysis sessions at CPMC cost you $150, but this includes a 30-minute follow-up session too. If you don't live in the SF Bay Area, check your local running store — I bet they can recommend a physical therapist that provides gait analysis.
Have you ever had your running gait analyzed? If so, share what you learned in the comments section below.