Gait Retraining: It’s On

I run funny. Anyone who’s seen me run or looked at any of my race photos will have figured that out by now. I heel strike pretty severely, and I run as if I’m trying to stay on a very narrow track or a tightrope or something, so my legs have to do this wonky bend around each other and I end up looking like this:

(Ignore the terrible face/gesture I’m making and look at my ridiculous legs)

How I don’t trip myself more often when I run is a mystery to me!

In addition to running funny, I tend to get injured a lot. Since becoming a runner (which wasn’t that long ago!) I’ve battled shin splints, tendon tears, heel spurs, tendonitis in the foot, tendonitis in the knees, a plethora of bruised toenails… I feel like I’m writing about a new injury on this blog every two months or so, and it’s getting a bit old.

Well… this all might be changing soon.

Drew, noticing my bizarre running style and likely sick of having to deal with my whining every time I get injured, got me a gift certificate for Christmas to a sports injury prevention clinic (I mentioned this a while back during my last injury) that offers gait analysis and retraining. After having to wait what felt like ages due to all the snowstorms, I finally had my first appointment last night. And I’m still completely blown away by everything I learned!

My session started with the trainer asking for a history of my injuries (ha!). She then tested the strength, flexibility, and mobility of my legs. This is where the knowledge started to drop. It turns out I have very inflexible muscles (not a surprise!) and very mobile joints, which apparently is a recipe for disaster and, according to the trainer, likely why I get injured so often. As she put it, joints that tend to move easily need flexible muscles so that a tight muscle doesn’t pull on a loose joint. Plus, the muscles then need strength to support those wiggly joints, and as it turns out, I have some weak muscles in my legs. This would explain why I’ve had so many ankle sprains throughout my life!

After all the testing and measuring, she put some pieces of bright pink tape on my legs and hips and then had me run on a treadmill while a camera recorded my movements and sensors in the treadmill tracked what my feet were doing. After I ran for a few minutes, we gathered around the computer and watched me run in slow-motion (which is a very weird experience).

It turns out that my lower legs do most of the work when I run… they act like a sort of pendulum, swinging way out in front of my body, instead of driving up and down like they’re supposed to:

20140309_113816Compare my legs in the above picture to Colin’s – his knee is driving upwards as he runs, whereas my front shin is swinging out straight and my back foot isn’t rising up very high (unlike the guy between me and Colin in the photo). Instead of working my glutes and hamstrings like I’m supposed to, I’m basically just swinging my shins around and making a whole lot more work for myself. Plus, I also learned from the bright pink tape in the slo-mo video that my hips tilt forward when I run, which is keeping my glutes from kicking in and preventing my core from engaging properly. Basically, I’m a whole mess of improper.

On top of that, I already knew that I’m a heel-striker, but now I know that the angle my foot is at when I heel strike is way larger than it should be (but, despite this, the treadmill sensor told me that I absorb impact quite well. Who would have thought?). Anyway, this angle is probably because my toes all point straight up whenever I take a step (do you  know anyone who’s blown holes through the rubber tops of their Converse? I have…).

Thanks to last night’s session, I now know why I do that – my tibialis anterior muscles (at the front of the leg by the shin) are incredibly weak and basically useless, so my toes are straining up and doing all the work to make my legs move when I walk or run. According to the trainer, these weak muscles are likely the cause of my shin splints, my exceptionally bruised toenails, any plantar fasciitis I’ve experienced, and the tendonitis I had in my foot two months ago.

I feel like the wool has been pulled from my eyes! Knowing what’s inefficient in my body totally explains all my niggles and injuries, and I only wish I had found all this out years ago… I could have saved myself a whole lot of pain and whining! But, now that I know what’s wrong, I can work on fixing it, and that’s the most exciting part.

I’m now armed with a regimen to start fixing my useless muscles and dodgy running style. First up, strengthen the shin muscles and teach my toes to calm down! While I work at that, I also have a bunch of exercises to do to get my hips pointed in the right direction, as well as an order to foam roll the crap out of my hip flexors, which are tight as all get out.

Thanks to Drew’s awesome Christmas gift, I have 8 more sessions covered. Maybe this summer I’ll be running all proper like this:

…and, more importantly, maybe I’ll be less injury-prone! I feel a little weird totally changing how I run – how I’ve always run – but if it means fewer injuries and more efficient running, then I can’t wait to see the results.

Have you ever had a gait analysis done? Did the results surprise you at all?

Ever seen a video of yourself running in slow motion?
So weird!

Do you have anything fun planned for the weekend? Anyone racing?


14 thoughts on “Gait Retraining: It’s On

  1. That’s so interesting! And a lot to think about. Good luck with your next appointments and running! The only time I’ve ever been filmed is on the treadmill when trying on shoes but I always run so oddly on it that I just stopped doing that.

    • Thanks! I know, I felt so overwhelmed during that appointment… I kind of wish I had brought paper to take notes on everything the trainer said! It was fascinating though. I’ve seen shoe stores that have the fancy treadmill cameras but never tried it.

  2. This is so cool! That’s a huge amount of information from just one visit. I’m glad you’ve got more lined up so you can continue to work and implement what you’re learning. I’m excited to see how this helps you going forward. And I’m also really jealous that I don’t get to do it. I wonder if there’s one of these types of places near me… Off to Google!

  3. Wow, what a great present from Drew! Did you feel really funny watching yourself on video in slow-mo running? It’s crazy to see the way you’re running and how it affects the rest of your body. You’d recommend doing this then? I’ve had my gait analysis but they didn’t really help with recommending how to stop my funny running!

    • SUCH a great present! 🙂 It felt really weird to watch myself slo-mo running… not just at how weird my legs looked but the face I was making too! Very odd. I would totally recommend doing this sort of thing, especially if you have a tendency to get injured. That’s disappointing that your gait analysis wasn’t very helpful in terms of actually adjusting your gait 😦

    • Thanks! I found the whole process fascinating too. Fingers crossed that it’s helpful and keeps the recurring injuries away! 🙂

  4. I have no idea what I look like when I run (probably not good!), but I have tried adjusting things from time to time after I figured out what was causing my injuries. I used to run on my toes, which stopped me from getting shin splints but resulted in a lot of calf pain – hopefully there will be a happy medium in there somewhere. 😉
    Sounds like the gait analysis is going to be really for you though and the exercises should help prevent further injuries. I look forward to reading about how you get on. 🙂

    • That’s great that you were able to figure out – and stop – what was causing you calf pain! I tried several times to stop heel-striking (allll the shin splints) but trying to land on my forefoot caused bad calf pain so I gave up… better the devil you know, right? 🙂 But yes, I hope this program can help me prevent more injuries, and I’ll be sure to keep posting about how I get on! 🙂

    • Haha, that’s how my husband could spot me in races too! 🙂 At the very least, it’s really fascinating to learn about your body mechanics. I’d recommend it!

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