What is the impact of gait on running shoe choice?

Head to any running store or browse online and the range of choice available can feel overwhelming! With all the styles and shapes of running shoes available, it can be confusing for new runners to know where and how to get started. If you’re not sure what shoes are right for you, a good place to start is to learn how running gait and shoe choice interact.

So, what exactly is gait, how is it analysed, and how does gait analysis affect your running shoe choice?

What is ‘gait’

Gait is the study of human motion – most often how your body moves when you walk or run. Gait describes how every single part of your body works in harmony with the rest – from the way your feet come into contact with the ground to how your leg muscles extend and contract, how your hips shift, how your arms swing, and how your core, chest, back, neck and chin are positioned.

Complete gait analysis studies every part of your body when it’s moving to understand your individual walking or running motion as it goes through the following phases:

  • Your stance when your foot first makes contact with the ground
  • The way weight is loaded across your foot from heel to forefoot
  • How your heel starts to lift off the ground and your forefoot begins to flex
  • Toe-off – the moment your foot leaves the ground
  • Your swing, which describes how your foot moves in the air

How gait analysis for running shoes works

When choosing running shoes, you might choose to have your gait analysed at a specialist running store. This is a popular way for new runners in particular to start narrowing down their choice of shoes. A gait analysis usually follows these stages:

  • You visit a running store, bringing your running socks (if you have some)
  • You’ll normally be provided with a pair of neutral running shoes that offer relatively little cushioning
  • You run on a treadmill, while having your feet filmed from behind
  • The store staff analyses a slow-motion video of your foot to understand the biomechanics of your running style
  • The store staff then give you advice about your running gait and shoe choice

What does one look for when doing a gait analysis?

The purpose of gait analysis is to understand your level of ‘pronation’. Pronation is a term used to describe how far the foot rolls in when it strikes the ground. There are three types of pronation:

  • Neutral pronation:The outer heel meets the ground first before rolling in slightly. The rest of the foot comes into contact with the ground before pushing off from all the toes at once. The lower leg remains fairly vertical throughout.)
  • Overpronation: The outer heel meets the ground first, then the foot rolls in more significantly, in excess of about 15 degrees, forcing the lower leg to lean inward. Often, only the inside of the foot is in contact with the ground, and push-off is achieved using only the larger toes.
  • Underpronation (supination):The outer heel meets the ground first, but the foot fails to roll inwards. Instead, only the outer foot comes into contact with the ground, pushing off from the smaller toes. The lower leg may lean outwards.

By analysing your running style with gait analysis, trained store staff can then recommend specific kinds of running shoes which will offer the precise kind of support your gait needs./p>

  • If you are a neutral runner: Neutral shoes are generally recommended, as they tend to be more flexible and usually only offer cushioning in the heel.
  • If you are an overpronator: The recommendation may be to purchase pronation trainers, shoes that may include a tough ‘medial post’, normally a piece of durable foam or even plastic under the midfoot, which helps your entire foot land in a flatter, more desirable position.
  • If you are an underpronator: Supination shoes may be recommended to you, which add extra support on the outer edge of the shoes to help ‘correct’ your foot into a more neutral position.
  • There is some debate in the running world about the pros and cons of running-gait analysis. For some, it simplifies the individual’s overall motion, when in fact there are many more factors which affect your comfort when running than simply your foot movement.

    That said, gait analysis remains a useful tool to help runners – and people who are new to the sport, in particular – learn about their body’s mechanics. While it’s certainly not the only consideration, it can be useful to help you start narrowing down your choices. It’s always worth trying on a few different kinds of shoes to figure out which you find most comfortable. So, if you’re not quite sure what shoes are right for you, visiting a store in person and having your running style analysed can help a lot.

    Running gait and shoe choice often interact to help you with finding the right pair of shoes. To narrow down different kinds of trainers, use our shoe finder tool, or visit one of our stores for a free, no-obligation gait analysis today.