Let’s talk about gait.
Have you ever stopped to watch how people move? The way their body shifts as they walk? How do their feet hit the ground?
Gait is something that’s super important for functionality, but even more so for athletic performance. As an athlete, the last thing you want is to be injured from overuse or trauma, which means taking the necessary precautions to avoid that is a must. And a gait analysis is one of the best indicators of how likely an individual is to develop a specific condition, on or off the field.
Let’s break down what you need to know about gait and why getting a gait analysis to understand your movement imbalances can completely change your performance and drastically reduce your risk of injury!
Gait is the word used to describe an individual's movement patterns; it is the way in which a person walks. Human gait is highly dependent on a complex interplay of several parts of the nervous, musculoskeletal, and cardiorespiratory systems and is heavily influenced by various factors including age, personality, mood, and sociocultural factors .
Learning about your gait and the way you move is important for overall performance. It helps us to understand potential movement imbalances such as stiff joints, weak muscles, or poor range of motion that, if not corrected, can lead to injury and prevent you from performing at your best. When gait imbalances are present, the body is forced to compensate by moving in an inefficient, unbalanced way, which eventually leads to biomechanical abnormalities like overpronation, oversupination, or pelvic tilt. Over time, these abnormalities lead to excessive wear and tear on joints and can be the reason for poor performance or serious injuries.
One way to determine if a gait imbalance is present is to do a gait analysis. It’s a simple test that measures factors such as cadence, stride length, speed, foot angle, and hip angle to see improper mechanics. If you have a proper gait with proper walking/running technique and mechanics, it supports the proper function of the joints, muscles, and the entire body as one synergistic unit, dramatically increasing performance and reducing stress and subsequent risk of injury.
A gait analysis also gives insight into individual levels of strength, mobility, flexibility, and stability, which are all important pieces of the puzzle for training and performance.
Try this at home:
If you want a super easy at-home way to look at the structure of your foot, simply wet the soles of your feet and step onto something that will leave a footprint--paper, concrete, dark tile, etc. The footprint says a lot about how you walk. Just take a look at these:
Pronation is the natural movement the foot exhibits during landing while walking and running. There are three types of pronation patterns that can occur:
While it may seem like gait is just about correcting how you walk, it’s so much more. When it comes to gait imbalances, it can make or break your performance. Just like we train for mobility and proper technique/form during movement, we want to make sure that your movement patterns during walking, running, and jumping are correct to avoid further imbalances and injuries. In doing so, we indirectly improve technique and form during physical activities and thus improve overall performance and functionality.
Without proper balance and stability, it’s not just lifts and sports that are going to be difficult, but everyday movements are also going to be a challenge. Your balance has a direct impact on everything you do, and when it’s off, it’s difficult to make the feet and legs move as they should.
Although balance and stability aren’t synonymous, they’re really important for athletes. They work together to ensure that athletes can control their bodies during every part of a movement.
A successful athlete doesn’t always need to be stable, but maintaining balance is important, as poor balance can mean loss of control.
Any time you improve balance and stability, you improve the likelihood of better performance across the entire spectrum of athletic goals. Gait training can help you improve the ability to bear your weight on the legs and shift that weight around until you achieve consistent stability and balance.
Gait training and correcting gait imbalances improves your ability to stand and run by doing exercises and activities that strengthen muscles and joints, improve posture and balance, build endurance, retrain legs for repetitive motion, and develop muscle memory. By being consistent with your training, you’ll not only be able to stand and walk better, but you’ll also be able to overcome any functional movement deficits.
Correcting gait imbalances is a simple way to make a big difference in your performance, along with reducing the risk of injury. Gait training helps to realign the feet and body to improve posture and minimize the risk of developing things like shin splints, plantar fasciitis, ankle rolls, and other common foot, ankle, and leg injuries. The last thing you want to do when you’re training for a competition or trying to hit a PR is move wrong and end up flat on your back and out of luck. When you strengthen the foot and ankles by correcting gait, you move in a way that supports the proper functional movement patterns thereby keeping you safe from any sort of injuries.
With all of that said, fixing your gait may seem like a complicated thing--but it’s not!
Fixing your gait can be as simple as doing a series of exercises daily that help to realign and strengthen the feet and ankles, thereby correcting everything in the kinetic chain above. The exercises you do are going to be dependent on what kind of gait imbalance you’re dealing with. Here are some of the best for overpronators and supinators!
For anyone that overpronates, there are two key things that can help to realign the feet and bring you more back to natural pronation:
Toe spacers naturally help to realign the big toe and strengthen the intrinsic muscles of the foot that don’t normally get used. While you may think toe spacers are just for the toes, they help to release pressure and realign the toes to where they need to be, but also benefit the feet by helping to redistribute pressure during movement.
Unlike traditional advice that will tell you to invest in some orthotics, stopping overpronation with padded or custom shoes might actually do more harm than good. Instead, aim to correct excessive pronation with exercises that strengthen the foot.
For the supinators out there, as with overpronation, orthotics are not the solution. They may help with comfort and reduce heel pain, but the muscles in the feet aren’t learning how to address the issue without assistance. So, there are a few things we can do to address supination without the use of external aids.
Focus on landing closer to your mid-foot instead of the back of your heel with each stride. Also, stop being a daddy long legs and shorten up that stride!
If you find you supinate, be extra with the stretching and mobilize the leg to encourage proper form. Maybe we’re biased, but the EI8HTBALL is amaaaaazeballs for rolling out the feet, calves, hamstrings, and quads.
Training sans the shoes (and socks) allows you to really focus on strengthening your feet and stability. Focus on pressing the big toe joint down when doing single-leg exercises to build strength in the calves and foot, which translates to better ankle stability.
Whether you’re dealing with poor mobility during lifts, chronic lower back pain, or tight hamstrings and calves, getting your get analyzed to uncover imbalances can be a total game-changer for your performance and everyday functionality. And counter to what most professionals may suggest for dealing with these issues, orthotics and other external assistance isn’t always the answer. Investing in things like toe spacers and rollers, along with properly fitting shoes that allow the toes to splay, can make a huge difference in your movement patterns and keep you out of the line of fire for injury down the road.
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