Running Form and Running Form Analysis: The Ultimate Guide
Running is great for both mental and physical health. However, to truly reach your potential as a runner, it’s not enough to “go long” or “go hard” – it’s also crucial to train and maintain proper running form. That’s where running form analysis comes in. It helps runners to identify weak spots and improve their running rechnique. There are many options for running form analysis – so how to choose the best one? Read our guide to running form analysis to learn more!
While every human knows how to walk instinctively, running is different. It involves much higher forces that we – often with bodies weakened from lack of movement, lack of flexibility or strength – may not handle in the most mechanically efficient way. While we tend to naturally improve our run form as we run more this only works up to a point. Guidance from a run form analysis accelerates and further improves this process and can help identify issues before they become ingrained habits or lead to injuries. (1)
What is Running Form Analysis?
Running form refers to the way your body moves when running. Running form analysis is a tool to evaluate running form to identify areas that appear inefficient or susceptible to injury. The goal of a running form analysis is usually to lower injury risk (or identify the reason for an injury) and increase efficiency for more endurance and speed. Running form analysis also referred to as running gait assessment, motion analysis, running technique evaluation or biomechanical analysis.
A good running gait analysis provides actionable advice to improve a runner’s movement patterns to enhance running efficiency (so they use less energy while running at the same speed) or reduce the risk of injury.
This advice may include running form drill to train neuromuscular pathways (“muscle memory”), strength and flexibility exercises or mental cues to provide focus.
Types of Running Form Analysis – Which One is Right for You?
There are different types of running form analysis based on who conducts it and how it is being conducted. You could opt for in-person analysis with a physiotherapist or coach, analysis at a shoe store or choose a sports lab. Another way to perform a running gait analysis is to use a service powered by AI and computer vision such as movaia.com. Finally there’s the option of doing a running form analysis on a treadmill or running over ground.
Each of these options has its pros and cons, and you should consider a few factors when deciding on the type of analysis to use.
- Quality: Choose an analysis method that provides accurate and reliable results.
- Cost: Does the cost fit within your budget? This is related to the desired frequency of analysis.
- Frequency: Decide how often you need to do the analysis. Changes in running should not be made too quickly to avoid injury and take time, so a check up every few weeks or months based on your goals, needs and affordability makes sense.
- Quantifiability: Choose an analysis method that provides quantifiable and measurable results so you can track improvements
- Ease of use: A good running gait analysis avoids medical jargons and uses photographs and videos of the runner to aid visualization.
- Action-oriented: A good analysis not only informs you about your running technique but also provides guidane to improve runnign form.
- Convenience: Do you need to go to a special location? How difficult is it to make an appointment? Can you do the running gait analysis from the comfort of your home (or favorite running track or trail)?
Running Form Analysis by Your Coach
A coach will typically have deep insight into their athletes, their running history and goals. When they combine this advantage with a specialization in running form this is a powerful combination. However not every coach has the latest biomechanics know-how (or time) for a running form analysis.
Even if a coach does not do an analysis themselves they can be incredibly helpful in implementing the findings of a running form analysis when planning training load, training sets and drills. Not every runner has access to a coach though, so this option is not always available.
Running Form Analysis by a Physiotherapist
Physiotherapists with their in depth knowledge of the human body and the kinetic chain (how the movement of different body parts is linked together) can make great conductors of running form analysis. A physiotherapist can do in-depth diagnosis on the stop by physically examining the runner and potentially treating issues right there.
To make them truly effective they should have experience in working with runners frequently. Some physiotherapists may also have advanced analysis equipment available to them creating quantifiable running form measurements.
Downsides include the cost and time commitment associated with physiotherapists which may limit the repeatability of running form analysis via physiotherapist. Just like with coaches physiotherapists can also make a great partner in implementing findings of a trusted online analysis.
AI Powered DIY Running Form Analysis
The rise of computer vision and AI enabled running form analysis is a brand new development. It allows runners to perform a running form analysis “at home” without specialist knowledge. This type of analysis is represented by Movaia.com.
An advantage of their approach is that the algorithm is based on the know-how of world-class experts in running science and makes it accessible. The automated algorithm keeps the analysis affordable despite this elite backround. The lower cost of this service makes it much more likely that a runner repeats running form analysis regularly and thus truly maximizes its benefits
The algorithmic approach to analyzing running gait yields quantified output as well as illustrated photos and videos of the runner. This makes it easy to visualize improvements and track progress. Based on the analysis results the algorithm selects appropriate drills to improve running technique. Only a few seconds of video are needed for an effective gait analysis.
This service is especially powerful when the report is shared with a coach or physiotherapist. This combines the best of both worlds: Quantifiable, scientific input augmented with in depth knowledge of the athlete. A downside of this type of service is be that it requires runners to take their own videos.
Gait Analysis in a Shoe Store
The appeal of gait assessments in running shoe stores is that they are often free. The downside is that in most cases this service will naturally be biased towards selling shoes. Therefore the analysis may be focused on foot strike and pronation patterns, often neglecting a holistic, full body evaluation. Hence treat these evaluations with skepticism and pay attention if the stores service covers the critical components of running form analysis listed below.
Sports Science Labs or High Performance Sports Centers
On the opposite end of the spectrum would be a running form analysis in a sports science lab. These labs may feature pressure plates, 3D-sensors, multi-camera set ups combined with other measurements such as VO2 max testing. These services are often reserved for elite runners, research projects or come at a very high cost – and may be more than what is useful for even ambitious non-professional runners.
Running Form Analysis on a Treadmill vs. Over Ground
Apart from who conducts the running form analysis it is also worthwhile considering if it will be done on a treadmill or running over ground. While the treadmill makes it convenient and presents a controlled environment that will be identical over various sessions it also introduces non-natural influences into running form. Running over ground may therefore reflect your real life running form better, however it’s harder to control speed, camera angles etc .
On treadmills for example ground contact times tend to be shorter and it’s easier to rotate your hips and extend your legs backward. This is due to the “help” of the treadmills band that sweeps the foot backwards. Runners with less experience on treadmills may also adjust their style due to the fear of falling off the treadmill or bumping into the front console. If you are usually not running on a treadmill, a warm up on the treadmill is especially important to literally “find your stride” before the analysis.
The Run Down – what happens during a gait assessment?
Typically a running form analysis starts with questions that aim to understand the runners history. This includes training volume, previous injuries, typical pace and goals. The answers to these questions can guide which areas to pay special attention to and the interpretation of results.
This survey of a runner’s background is then often followed by a warm up to ensure the following running form analysis reflects a natural running style.
The running and video taking for the actual analysis of your technique itself will be relatively short, just lasting a few minutes. The videos typically will be taken at high frame rates from multiple angles that can be analyzed in slow motion. This is important considering that one or two hundredth of a second can make a difference in certain metrics.
Make sure to wear tight fitting clothes with your shirt tucked in. This allows the coach, physiotherapist or computer vision AI to get a more accurate assessment of movements.
While run form analysis at physiotherapists sports labs are typically performed on a treadmill online services such as Movaia will also process videos taken outside.
What is Covered in a Running Form Analysis?
A running form analysis typically includes some of the following metrics. More is not always better, if you are going for several appointments it makes sense to focus on a few metrics at a time, based on your history and goals.
- Cadence: The number of steps you take per minute, which is a key determinant of injury risk and influences other gate elements.
- Foot Strike: How your foot hits the ground when you run, e.g. whether you land on the forefoot, midfoot or whether you are striking with your heel..
- Lean: The angle of your body when you run during certain phases of the gait cycle.
- Posture: The alignment of your body when you run, e.g alignment of hip, thorax, neck and head.
- Maximum Shank Angle: The maxim angle of your shin bone during the forward swing of the leg.
- Strike Angle: The angle of your foot when it strikes the ground.
- Sweep: How much your foot sweeps back from maximum shank angle to strike angle.
- Arm Angle: The angle of your arms when you run.
- Arm Movement: How far forward, backward or sideways your arms move when you run.
- Hip Drop: The amount the hip drops as the body weight is being supported by the opposite side’s leg during running.
- Pronation/Supination: The inward or outward rolling of your foot when it strikes the ground. (Pronation is natural and desirable – so only excessive pronation or insufficient pronation – supination – may warrant action).
- Vertical oscillation: The vertical movement during a gait cycle
How Often Should You Do a Running Form Analysis
A regular runner will benefit from an evaluation of their running biomechanics every 3-4 weeks. This frequency allows to track progress but also experiment with evaluating run form subject to different conditions:
- Track progress while focusing on one key area each time.
- See changes in form due to shoe changes
- Evaluate running form after an injury or niggles
- Identify the impact of different speeds on running form
- See the impact of different fatigue levels
- Evaluate your run form after a cycling leg (for triathletes)
To wrap up this guide, a running form analysis is a valuable tool for improving running performance and preventing injuries. There are various options for you to chosse from so consider which one works best for you. One way to explore running form analysis risk free is Movaia’s free running form analysis trial.
Clinical Aspects of Running Gait Analysis, Amanda Gallow and Bryan Heiderscheit, in: Miller T.L. (ed.) Endurance sports medicine (Springer, 2016)(ISBN 9783319329802), p. 201-216
Anderson, Owen: Running Form: How to Run Faster and Prevent Injury, 2018 by Human Kinetics, ISBN 9781492510383 (ISBN10: 1492510386)
de Ruiter CJ, Verdijk PW, Werker W, Zuidema MJ, de Haan A. Stride frequency in relation to oxygen consumption in experienced and novice runners. Eur J Sport Sci. 2014;14(3):251-8. doi: 10.1080/17461391.2013.783627. Epub 2013 Apr 14. PMID: 23581294.