I get quite a few requests to observe people’s running gait via video to analyze how they run. Over the years, my attitudes on video analysis have changed significantly.
Back in the day, I loved video analysis. It was an easy method to see what was happening with gait. If the video could be slowed down, it’s possible to see flaws in form that would otherwise go unnoticed.
My positive opinions have been changing, however. The reason is simple- video doesn’t show what’s going on inside the body… and the internal mechanisms of running gait are far more important than the external cues that can be analyzed on video.
Part of this change comes from my evolving view of how we run. When I first started describing how we run when coaching and in clinics, I emphasized relaxing the body then moving different parts in various ways to achieve a given result. I used a lot of learning cues like “lift the foot” and “lean forward.”
After studying gait from the people that actually study gait from a biomechanical perspective, I’ve come to realize that most elements of gait are either passive (no need to actively contract muscles) or don’t have to be controlled because they occur as a function of proper form (leaning, arm swing, hip flexion, etc.).
When we watch video of a runner, we may see certain flaws in gait. However, we can’t always determine why the flaws are occurring. Furthermore, the solutions we give often involve actively moving the body in a different way, which ends up exasperating the problem.
Quite possibly the best example of this phenomenon can be seen when a runner posts a video of themselves in a running forum and asks for advice. Many people toss out a variety of “tips” to correct the flaws they see without fully understanding why the person may be doing what they’re doing. The result is a lot of bad advice that ultimately hurts the runner far more than it helps.
Is Video Ever Effective?
Video can be effective in the hands of a person that recognizes the inherent limitation of video, and can discriminate how and why particular things are happening. Unfortunately this rarely happens. Hell, I’ve been studying gait for years from a multitude of perspectives and I don’t think I’m in any way qualified to analyze video. Unfortunately, many of the people that are “trained” to do video analysis are given just enough information to convince themselves they know what they’re talking about.
What’s a Better Alternative?
This is a tough question. After all, video seems like the most objective measure possible. I would argue it’s more valuable for runners to learn what proper biomechanics are supposed to feel like, then learn how to achieve that feel. Ultimately it goes back to something Ken Bob talks about on a regular basis- we are our own best coach. The best “coaches” are those that can teach us what good gait feels like and give us the cues that will correct the problems if and when they occur.