With our stellar CFH WODkillaz team wrapping up the Hood to Coast Relay this weekend, it got me really thinking about running style and gait. I had the opportunity to volunteer for our team and as you can imagine it was an awesome opportunity for people watching as well, what with over 1250 teams of 12 people and 3 volunteers per team; you do the math. As a trainer, I can’t but help relish in the chance to be around that many athletes and, naturally, I found myself silently executing postural and movement screening on hundreds of people! Yes, that is what the world can look like through a trainer’s eyes in these scenarios. Don’t judge, please and thank you.

Wow, were there A LOT of different running postures, techniques, swaggers, rhythms, and shuffles! It’s amazing to me how varied running gaits can be amongst us–from those who effortlessly seem to glide right along like aerodynamic cheetahs to those who appear to be running, or are they? Is that imaginary quick sand they’re running through? All the people watching got me wondering about how our bodies come to adopt and adapt to our unique running styles. What happens during the gait cycle and how did it get that way?

Many CrossFitters also happen to be avid runners, and although CrossFit training methodology doesn’t emphasize long-distance/endurance running, it does incorporate running as an significant component of fitness. Proper running gait (how you run) and optimal, efficient running economy (getting the “best bang for your buck” out of each stride) aren’t any less important just because you’re not a marathoner. And now, with the booming trend toward minimalist and barefoot running culture, gait and running biomechanics are one hot topic, and this also means there is a slew of research and “expert” opinions out there about how to run and what to wear while  doing so. The gait cycle is actually a very complex process that could be expounded upon in great depth but I’d like to emphasize the points I feel will carry the most significance for you guys as CrossFitters and runners.

Gait is one of the fundamental movement patterns and is a common cause of repetitive movement dysfunction,..requiring a synchronized orchestration between the nervous, myofascial, and skeletal systems. While often overlooked in many strength and conditioning programs, it is important to improve gait patterns, as this is the cause of many movement impairments, according to a recent article published by PTontheNet. There are 8 phases of one gait cycle, 4 of which belong to the Stance Phase (60% of the cycle where both feet are in contact with the ground) and the other 4 to the Swing Phase (40% of the cycle where the forward foot is either moving toward or off the ground). The Stance Phase is “the phase that creates the most challenges and subsequently leads to the greatest number of compensations…” Common dysfunctions during this phase include:

  • poor eccentric control of the foot lowering to the ground
  • poor deceleration of ankle dorsiflexion as the shin/tibia is moving forward of the foot
  • poor eccentric control of the lower extremity during mid-stance where stability is required over the center of gravity in unilateral (single-leg) stance
  • loss of frontal plane stability (think: hip, knee, or ankle caving in or pulling out)
  • impaired control of pronation (increased transverse (rotational) plane motion at one or multiple segments of the lower kinetic chain–from the hips down).

Two of the most common causes for faulty mechanics during the gait cycle are lack of both ankle dorsiflexion (toes move toward shin) and hip extension (when the leg straightens behind the body as when pushing off during a stride). A minimum of 10º of ankle dorsiflexion and 10º of hip extension are required for uncompensated gait (Michaud, 2007). Unfortunately, our modern sedentary lifestyles lend to a deficit in both of these areas, even if we are active, recreational athletes. Many of us still spend 8-10 hours a day sitting–in constant hip and knee flexion which can cause chronic tightness and shortening of the hip flexors, hamstrings, and calves–all of which contribute to poor ankle dorsiflexion and hip extension.

Another common cause of movement dysfunction is improper or inefficient respiration, “the driving force underlying all movement and stabilization… Diaphragmatic breathing must be performed by establishing a “canister effect” or ensuring the lower aspect of the ribcage aligns over the pelvis. When this connection is established, diaphragmatic breathing can be optimized and makes it possible to activate the deep stabilization system (diaphragm, transversus abdominus, pelvic floor, and psoas) as opposed to over-relying on the superficial muscles (Kolar, 2009).”

So how to improve in these areas in order to maximize running economy and develop an optimal gait that contributes to improved performance and injury prevention? Check out the link below to an awesome article by Ben Greenfield, NSCA Certified Personal Trainer and Coach, and owner of Human Wellness Solutions and Pacific Elite Fitness. He includes some great strategies for addressing these all important aspects of healthy movement. He begins the article with a huge “take home” point I wanted to reiterate:

“Please understand that there is no such thing as “perfect” running form. Since everyone has different limb lengths, varying muscle fiber sizes and angles, diverse masses, and separate running distance requirements, no single athlete will run the same. But there are *characteristics* of a good runner that remain fairly constant from person to person. Allow me to introduce you to four, and include a drill to improve each.

Additionally, I wanted to express the philosophy behind our approach to programming at CrossFit Hillsboro. As many of you have noticed in the past few months, we’ve been emphasizing different aspects of fitness for each month and were pleased to receive the feedback we got in the recent survey we sent to you all regarding this approach. The primary reasons for spending more focus on a given component, technique, or skill is so that we address the areas where we observe a large majority of our guests are most challenged or have the need and desire for improvement. This serves to help all of us become more balanced athletes, prevents over- and under-training, which can lead to increased risk for injury and clearly unwanted down time, and also contributes to enhancing the mental component of training–keeping it challenging, exciting, and FUN! You guys are doing awesome and it is amazing to see all of you guys get stronger and faster, and looking good while doing it! Over the month of September we’ll emphasize pushing strength, both vertical and horizontal, and improve Knees-to-Elbows and Toes-to-Bar technique. Prepare to “push your own and then some” people!


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