Understanding Running Gait

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During midstance, your entire bodyweight is supported by one leg.

For many runners, the biggest difficulty is finding a running shoe suited to how they run. If you are a runner looking to increase your mileage but want understand more about choosing the most suitable shoe, the first step would be to find out your running gait. So what is running gait and the gait cycle?

The gait cycle describes how we walk and run. Having an idea of the gait cycle helps to make sure you are choosing the correct running shoes. It also helps to understand pronation patterns. If you have never analysed your own running in this way, you can break down one complete step into several component movements or phases. However, we can talk about two main phases:

Swing –  The way in which our stride comes through before foot strikes the ground. This will vary depending on the speed you are running at.

Stance – The period when the foot is in contact with the ground.

The stance phase is considered the most important phase, because this is when the foot and leg bear your body weight. The stance phase can in turn be divided into three stages:
1. Initial Contact
2. Midstance
3. Propulsion

Initial Contact
Initial contact is when your foot lands on the ground. It is the cushioning phase of the gait cycle. The knee flexes just before the foot hits the ground and the foot pronates (rolls in). This causes the foot and leg to act together as shock absorbers. The foot needs to be quite mobile at this time to allow for any unevenness in the terrain. More often than not, this is heel first. However regular runners can land midfoot and forefoot first with very minimal heel contact.

Midstance
During midstance the foot and leg provide a stable platform for the body weight to pass over. By now the foot should have stopped pronating. If the foot is still pronating at this time there is too much movement and instability (over-pronation). Also called the single support phase, midstance is when the other foot is in swing phase, so all the body weight is borne by a single leg. This also means that the lower limb is particularly susceptible to injury.

During midstance, your entire bodyweight is supported by one leg.
During midstance, your entire bodyweight is supported by one leg.

The weight of the body has a flattening effect on the arch of the foot. However, our feet are specifically adapted to resist excessive arch flattening. Most important in supporting the foot is the plantar fascia, the connective tissue which stretches across the arch of the foot.

Propulsion
Propulsion is the final stage of the stance phase. It begins immediately as the heel lifts off the ground. As the big toe turns upwards (dorsiflexes) the windlass mechanism comes into play, tightening the plantar fascia and helping to raise the arch of the foot. This mechanism is very important since it allows the foot to act as an efficient lever.

The most important phases to focus on are the initial contact and midstance phases as these both are the most determining factors for finding out what your running gait is. Running gait is broken down into three categories:

Neutral
This would be the stride pattern that provides the most consistent and natural way to run. With a neutral stride, there is a natural pronation pattern with over-compensating completely on the arch of the foot.

Runners with a neutral gait will experience greater wear in the middle of their shoes.
Runners with a neutral gait will experience greater wear in the middle of their shoes.

Over-Pronation
Over-pronation is when the foot rolls in excessively, or at a time when it should not, for instance late in the stance phase of gait. In this case much weight is transferred to the inner or medial side of the foot, and as the runner moves forward the load is borne by the inner edge rather than the ball of the foot. This destabilizes the foot, which will attempt to regain stability by compensating for the inward movement. In a kind of chain reaction, this in turn affects the biomechanical efficiency of the leg, especially the knee and hip.

The shoes of an over-pronator will show extra wear on the inside of the heel and under the ball of the foot, especially the big toe.

Over-pronators will experience greater where on the inside of their shoes.
Over-pronators will experience greater wear on the inside of their shoes.

Under Pronation (Supination)
Under-pronation refers to excessive rolling towards the out-step of the stride and lack of pronation. Under-pronators (or supinators) are likely to have excessive wear on the outer heel of their shoes, and the entire upper of the shoe may be pushed over to the lateral side.

Under pronators will wear excessively the outside of their shoes.
Under-pronators will experience greater wear on the outside of their shoes.

As under-pronators tend to be susceptible to shock-related injuries like stress fractures, you should choose a neutral running shoe with plenty of cushioning. The extra cushioning will lessen the impact of landing the legs have to endure when running. Under-pronators should avoid shoes with dual density midsoles or shoes designed to support over-pronation.

How to check your running gait
You can check your running gait by simply checking the wear of your shoes if you have run in them regularly over a period of 6 months. However it is recommended that you do a Gait Analysis test. In Decathlon stores we offer this service completely FREE with our free Decathlon Card. The majority of our stores also provide a complete video analysis using the Dartfish software, where we observe frame by frame clips to provide all customers with a complete insight into their running gait and recommend the most suitable shoes.

If you are looking to get your Running Gait tested, get yourself down to a Decathlon store today!

The Kalenji running range is available exclusively at Decathlon.

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