The gait cycle describes how humans walk and run – in other words, how we move. Understanding the gait cycle helps to make sure you are choosing the correct running shoes for your running style.
The 2 phases of the gait cycle
A complete gait cycle begins when one foot makes contact with the ground, and ends when that same foot makes contact with the ground again. It is made up of two phases:
- Stance phase: part of the foot is touching the ground
- Swing phase: that same foot isn’t touching the ground
Stance is considered the most important phase of the gait cycle because this is when the foot and leg bear your body weight. The stance phase can in turn be divided into three stages:
- Initial Contact
Let's take a closer look at each of these gait cycle phases, and how they impact your running movement and overall running style.
1. Initial Contact
Initial contact is when your foot lands on the ground. It is the cushioning phase of the gait cycle. The knee flexes just before the foot hits the ground and the foot pronates (rolls in). This causes the foot and leg to act together as shock absorbers.
During midstance the foot and leg provide a stable platform for the body weight to pass over. By now the foot should have stopped pronating. If the foot is still pronating at this time there is too much foot movement and instability.
Also called the single support phase, midstance is when the other foot is in swing phase, so all the body weight is carried by a single leg. This also means that the lower limb is particularly susceptible to injury.
Propulsion is the final stage of the stance phase. It begins immediately as the heel lifts off the ground. As the big toe turns upwards (dorsiflexes) the windlass mechanism comes into play, tightening the plantar fascia and helping to raise the arch of the foot. This mechanism is very important as it allows the foot to act as an efficient lever.
The swing phase of the gait cycle begins with when the toe comes off the ground and ends just before the foot makes contact with the ground again, at which point a new gait cycle starts. This phase is important to set the foot and leg up in preparation for heel contact and the next stance phase.