With the good weather finally here, the desire to get up off the couch and be a bit more active is getting harder to resist.
Obviously, being more active is great for your health, but if you’re running or working out in the wrong footwear, you can end up with niggling problems and slight injuries that are a cause for concern. And so I set off to see if the right shoes really made a difference to performance and comfort by getting a gait analysis.
What's the deal?
Having (in a previous life) worked in a sports shop selling running gear, I went in to the gait analysis knowing a little bit about what was in store, and that I was more than likely an over-pronator, meaning that my ankle rolled in when I ran. Having that information is half the battle, but there are plenty of people out there who just throw on their old runners when the weather gets good and then start running. That's to be applauded and the desire to get some exercise is always a good idea, but you should also consider that you're putting a strain on your body when you're pounding the pavement.
At the shorter distances that I like to cover (around 5km, maybe up to 10km at a push) I wasn't seeing too many ill effects, but I would notice that I was getting a twinge in my knee towards the end of the routes or after a run, so being given the chance to see if the footwear I was choosing was making things worse instead of better, I decided to head along and see what it was all about. That said, I was also convinced that it was a complete gimmick, and that it wouldn't really show me anything that I didn't already know.
However, being able to see your stride slowed down gives you a totally different impression of what's going on when you run, as well as seeing if you could be avoiding some unnecessary impact on your joints and it proved much more useful than I had imagined.
The phases of your run
When you run, the foot goes through three phases of impact, which is what the gait analysis captures when you step on to the treadmill. The first phase is the heel strike, then the mid-foot follows and finally the toe-off occurs as you push forward for the next step.
It's not something that most of us think of when we lace up our shoes and go running though; we tend to think that our foot hits the floor, and if you've read up a bit on what shoes suit what type of foot, you might also know about the major types of problems that most people have when it comes to their gait.
As Barry, the gait analysis expert on hand to walk me through the process stated, there are three main types of issues that people have with their gait. The most common is that they are either a neutral runner (they don't need much support) or that they over-pronate, meaning that their ankle rolls slightly to the inside of the foot when they run. There is one slightly rarer category, known as supination, where you can land on the outside of the foot, but less than 5% of people tend to have this issue.
Obviously, if you over-pronate, supinate, or you're a neutral runner using a shoe with too much support, you can end up repeatedly stressing one joint or muscle, and that's something that shows itself when people come looking for a new pair of runners: "Mostly we see people coming in saying that they have hip, knee or ankle pain when running, as well as issues with their lower back. A lot of that can be solved by simply getting the right footwear to meet your needs".
The way to figure out what you need is, firstly, to find out what type of gait you have: "When a person comes in for a gait analysis, the first thing we want to do is give them a neutral runner and see what their natural motion is like", says Barry, "then we can look at where they need the support. The other thing to consider is what activity you're going to be using the footwear for". When I hopped on the machine, it was pretty easy to see that I was over-pronating, and the short, slow-motion video I captured highlighted the extent of it. While these type of things are always going to look worse in slow motion, it did make me slightly worried to see so much movement at the ankle joint when my foot impacted the floor.
It can be pretty confusing to go through all the different types of footwear on offer, so once the analysis was complete, Barry had a few more questions about what I was going to be using the shoes for. A neutral shoe like the one I had on above is great for training in the gym, but you might need more support when running: “It's not a case of buying the most expensive shoes out there, a lot of the time you won't need that for what you're doing. There's no point in buying the high-end Asics designed for running marathons if you're going to be using them to go to a spin class a few times a week or lifting weights in the gym".
The idea behind this is to find the shoes that best fit you, and not simply buy whatever you think might be the best ones, so you don't end up throwing money into a pair of shoes that might be of no benefit to you, or even worse, doing you more harm than good. As an over-pronator, there were a few options for me. If I was going to be doing long distance running, then the Asics Kayano would be perfect. As a result, they're the top of the line shoe, and would cost about €169.
For those with a more neutral stride who want to go on long runs (up to marathon distance) then the Adidas Boost (€155) was also an option, and is one of the best shoes on the market at the moment, while for shorter distance running the Asics Gel Zaraca (€85) would also suit a neutral runner whose stride impacted on their midfoot or their toes.
In the end, since I would only be covering distances up to 10k, there was no need to go that far up, and I tried on a few different pairs to see what they were all like. The Nike Zoom Structure (€125) was an option, while Under Armour's range of running shoes is also designed for covering the type of distances I was looking at. However, I tried the Asics GT-1000 (€110), a shoe with plenty of support, and hopped back on the treadmill to see what the difference was. At the point of impact the stability offered was visible, in particular if you compare the shot of my stride in the neutral runner and the Asics.
You need to consider that even if you're going short distances or you intend to start doing a bit more running in the good weather, the repetitive nature of the impact on your legs and back will tell over time. Getting the gait analysis done is free in the Life Style Sports stores that have the facility (Grafton Street, Dundrum, Swords, Blanchardstown Fashion Retail Park and Carrickmines) and you'll get a better understanding of why you need a particular type of support. When you see the whole thing slowed down, there's a fairly clear amount of movement that is putting undue strain on my ligaments and muscles.
I also felt that I got the right pair of shoes for me, and have noticed that on the few runs I've gone on since, there's a definite increase in the level of comfort I feel, while that twinge in my knee that was hampering me at points is no longer there. The main thing here is that, like in most other things, everyone is different, so even though your friend swears by their runners, they might be the totally wrong thing for you. Getting the right information from the gait analysis can not only lead to a more comfortable run or workout, but it also means that you could be avoiding an injury. Also it's free, so the price is right!
Did you do a gait analysis to get your runners, or do you think you'd try it to see if it were useful?