WHAT IS GAIT RE-TRAINING?
Gait retraining is an efficient and effective way to change your running form through real-time visual or auditory feedback. While most people assume that their running form is perfectly suited for their individual body, research shows us that our running mechanics can often get in our own way of being efficient and injury-free runners. Good news is - we can change that!
Knowing how to retrain your gait to reduce injury or increase performance all starts with correctly identifying the areas of your gait pattern that require improvement. This is best determined through a gait analysis performed by a physical therapist who is able to make a connection between the angles measured on your body while running with your strength, flexibility, and functional movement pattern deficits discovered during your assessment. Gait retraining without first establishing causation is similar to replacing a random gadget from under the hood of your car because you started seeing smoke a few miles back.
Once your gait has been analyzed and your assessment completed, gait retraining can be used to improve your running form. Gait retraining typically falls into two categories: auditory and visual gait retraining.
Auditory Gait Retraining
Step rate manipulation is one of the most commonly prescribed gait retraining techniques as it is quite simple to perform and incredibly effective. Step rate manipulation is increasing your cadence (the amount of steps that you take per minute) by 10%. As it is challenging to internally drive a 10% increase in your step rate, runners will often run to the beat of a metronome or songs with the correct beats per minute. This increase in cadence has been shown to improve your running pattern, rid yourself of injury, decrease total load on your joints, and increase your performance. *For a not-so-quick example, scroll to the bottom of the page to meet Ben, our overstriding runner.
Sound-Intensity feedback can be used to reduce the “pounding” of running as it turns out, the sound of your foot slapping the pavement correlates with the impact of force on your body. If you run more quietly, your bones and joints endure less total pounding. Sound-intensity feedback can be performed through a decibel meter app that will give you real-time feedback on your current level of noise. While you run, your goal is to try to keep an eye on the decibel level to decrease the sound as much as possible. This has been shown to decrease impact force and total force on your body while running.
Visual Gait Retraining
Mirror Gait retraining is a technique that can include putting stickers on your body at specific points and making sure to keep the dots aligned as you watch yourself run in the mirror. Although this is often not a fun task, visual gait retraining with mirror feedback can be incredibly helpful for improving faulty gait mechanics that contribute to injury.
Marking up your treadmill with a line down the center can be another effective way to visually train your running if you have a crossover pattern, meaning you cross center as you land. If you don’t have access to a treadmill but are able to find a stretch of wide sidewalk where you can run on either side of the sidewalk crack, feel free to play the “don’t step on the crack or you’ll break your mother’s back” game to widen your step width. This has been shown to significantly improve mechanics of running pattern at the hip, knee, and ankle.
The beauty of gait retraining is the simplicity of using cues to help change your pattern without having to think through every step. Each of these techniques, if performed correctly, can very effectively improve your running form. Further improvements can be seen by performing these gait retraining techniques in a clinic with a physical therapist giving you additional cues specified to YOUR gait impairments.
Ben demonstrates an overstriding gait pattern. Because of this pattern, he is experiencing shin splints on the outside of his shin bone (anterior tibial stress syndrome). He is also at increased risk for stress fracture, knee pain, and hamstring strain due to his running stride.