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Do You Need a Running Gait Analysis?

BY Jesse Riley

What goes on during a gait analysis, and how can this information be applied to training? Is getting a gait analysis necessary for everyone?

Technology advancements in the running world can be seen in many forms, from carbon-plated shoes to more breathable, lightweight apparel. The way gait analyses are conducted has also changed due to the ever-changing world of tech, but it has become a debatable topic in terms of what features are extraneous and what is actually applicable information. 

The technology used in gait analyses ranges from wearables to sensors attached to a treadmill. Some people use video analysis associated with wearable technology, whereas others just use numbers uploaded to a spreadsheet. 

If you’re reading this and the room is spinning, don’t fret. My goal is to give you a clear picture of what a gait analysis is, what information actually matters, and how that information can be applied in terms of strength training and performance.

Understanding Training Load & Capacity

Running gait analyses are typically performed when something isn’t going well – aka, pain or injury. I usually explain running-related pain based on two major terms: load and capacity. 

Training load includes more than just the volume of running. You also need to take into account the intensity of your runs, the frequency of how often you run, and all the little things like daily and current life stressors. Capacity is how your body tolerates your current training load.

Ideally, you strike the perfect balance between load and capacity, which is how you go from barely tolerating a 30-minute run to running a marathon in 2.5 hours. But if your load is heavily exceeding capacity, you’re probably on the cusp of injury. Doing a running gait analysis allows you to see where your body is distributing that load during your running gait cycle. This can give you a lens into answering the question, “Why might I have pain here?” 

Important Note: If your running is being heavily modified (limping, etc.) or extremely painful, you need the inflammation to calm down before performing a gait analysis so you’re able to get an accurate interpretation of your baseline running style.

Defining the Perfect Running Gait (Spoiler Alert: It Doesn’t Exist)

It’s normal for runners to want to “optimize” their running gait and work on their form to make it the most efficient. We strive for things like striking underneath us using a forefoot strike. The problem, however, a  2016 study by Moore found that there is no “most economical” running gait. 

Think of it like squatting, or even a daily task like getting ready for the day. We all have our own way of doing it. Some people have a different hip structure that develops into things like being “pigeon-toed” or “knock-kneed.” That causes their body to perform differently than what we call “the norm,” and it’s inherently going to make their running mechanics different, too. 

If you’re a fan of the sport, you may have watched someone like Priscah Jeptoo whose knees go into valgus with a large amount of kick-out. Despite this, she has an incredibly successful running career. That’s because human bodies are highly adaptable and have specific structures typically based on genetics. Those structures influence how a movement plays out and work to make it most efficient under the task it is being called upon to do. Many times changing these “habits” can have more detrimental effects than beneficial ones because the bones and tendons in those areas aren’t stressed enough prior to making these changes. 

That said, getting a gait analysis to just have the information or to make drastic changes to your running gait should be perceived with caution. Even the best runners have multiple styles of running that allow them to disperse the load in other places if one particular area isn’t doing well with the current load. This is also why I give my clients simple running cues like “run taller” or “run wider,” or I’ll limit certain grades of incline or decline for the time being as the body continues to build capacity.

Is There a Best Way to Get Your Gait Analyzed?

Have you ever purchased some piece of technology and upon taking it out of the box, you realize “I have no idea how to work this thing?” A lot of tech out there is very advanced, but it’s only useful if the person understands it. Most of the advanced tools that can be used in gait analyses were originally used for research purposes concerning large groups of people, not one specific runner. 

Actually, most of the information you need can very easily be measured with eyes and ears. At our clinic, we use an iPad and an app called RunCadence. It’s very minimal, but it allows us to see the most important patterns in someone’s running gait (in conjunction with our movement exam). Here are some of the things we look for when performing a gait analysis:


A lot of people think they are forefoot strikers when in reality they use more of a rearfoot strike pattern. This is actually most runners (80% or more). This isn’t to say that running with any strike pattern is inherently good or bad, but what is optimal for THAT runner and not THE runner. 


Step rate or cadence is essentially how quickly your feet turn over or how often your feet hit the ground per minute. Sensors along the treadmill deck can measure this, along with apps and watches. Although 180spm (steps per minute) seems to have been considered “ideal,”  I scrapped this number as everyone has their own personal cadence based on things like limb length and speed. 


Sound is a great way to measure ground reaction force. Sensors and force plates can give you numbers that might allow you to see asymmetries between the right and left leg, but listening to the sound on the treadmill deck can often give clues to this as well. 

I like to measure sound for issues like potential stress reaction problems or returning back to running from bone stress injuries. When you’ve seen enough reps, you get a sense of what this might sound like. (You may have even experienced this at the gym running next to someone where you wonder if the treadmill will fall apart under them.)

Swing Phases

Running is a sagittal-plane sport, meaning it moves forward like nodding your head “yes.” As you run, you pump your arms and legs forward, and you can see if forces get displaced outside the sagittal plane on video analysis. This might look like a couple of pictures you see below of using a wider arm carriage or crossing over midline with your legs.

Ultimately, as great as super-advanced technology is for gait analysis, it’s not a necessity if the person doing the analysis is skilled in the running gait cycle and biomechanics.

Getting a gait analysis done by a skilled professional (in conjunction with functional movement testing) can help you and/or your coach design a personalized strength program that not only helps you stay healthy but also improves your performance.

Applying Your Gait Analysis Findings to Your Training

Running is collectively about 1.5-2x your body weight of force being applied to your body. And because it’s a single-leg, plyometric-driven sport, you need your strength training to reflect that. Finding a coach who knows how to naturally progress lifts to being more running-specific is key. Finding a coach who can meet you at your current skill level/familiarity with lifting weights is equally important. 

So how does your gait analysis apply to your strength training? Many of the things we noted earlier (like crossing over midline or a wider arm carriage) typically translate to working in the frontal plane. Since the sagittal plane was nodding your head “yes,” the frontal plane is tilting your ears towards your shoulders. Many trainers and strength coaches refer to this as working laterally. Things like a lateral lunge or Copenhagen planks can strengthen areas that are notorious for running injuries. Ultimately, a variety of movements and movement planes are key for building a well-rounded runner.

I hope that you now have a better understanding and gait analyses and why you might need one, why you are built perfectly the way you are as a runner and human, and how information can be pulled from both functional testing and gait analysis to make your performance and relationship with running stronger.


Moore, I. (2016, January 27). Is There an Economical Running Technique? A Review of Modifiable Biomechanical Factors Affecting Running Economy. Retrieved from

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About Jesse Riley

Dr. Jesse Riley is the head clinician and strength coach at Modern Movement Clinic in the Denver/Golden, CO area. His main focus is working with endurance athletes both in rehab and strength training capacities. He uses his advanced skills in human movement and biomechanics to help educate people on pain or performance while also providing optimism and confidence in their journey. He has a strength program on Train Heroic’s Marketplace where he provides three workouts a week (two strength and one mobility). You can find more on social channels as @docjesseriley & @modernmvmntclinic.

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