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The Problem with Video Analysis of Running Gait

Posted by on Nov 11, 2012 | 6 Comments

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.

Thoughts?

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6 Comments

  1. simon bartold
    November 22, 2012

    Hey Jason.. I have been quietly enjoying your posts for some time now. As someone who works for a major footwear company (and a podiatrist to boot, although I guess I consider myself more a biomechanicst these days),I get lumped into certain boxes regularly, and find your analytical stye refreshing. In short.. I don’t really think there is any right or wrong way to run, and there is a lot of learning to be had. The extreme polarisation of arguments is not helpful.. and I have been guilty of that crime.. no more. Your observation here is spot on, and it has always frustrated me that a lot of retail is not involved in Gait Analysis, rather “foot analysis”, and even worse, they only look at the rearfoot which ignores 75% of the stance phase of gait. My goal is to teach these people to “lift the eyes” and take cues from higher up, and to absolutely look at what is happening from foot flat onward, in my view, the most important phase of the gait cycle in relation to injury. Will continue to follow and hopefully learn. best Simon

  2. Ryan Knapp
    November 13, 2012

    I disagree. So if someone has a massive heel strike by swinging their leg, we can’t help diagnose that via video? Or we can’t diagnose if they are rotating their torso, are sitting back, etc?

    If you don’t take the time to understand why the flaws are occurring, that is simply poor coaching. A runner has ‘x’ problem, have them do some simple squat tests, functional assessments (easily videoed) and take a look, then find the form issue and see if the two are linked together.

    I’d rather help a chronic heel striker via video and get 90% of the way there than to just let it go because video isn’t the best tool.

    And I’m curious, what would be an example of where video has limitations? What is a concrete example?

  3. Ben W
    November 13, 2012

    So, is there a post coming telling us what good gait feels like? : )

  4. Jasiu
    November 13, 2012

    I was struggling to find why my wife uses her arms in specific way. She does nip to hip with one arm but the other moving more from left to right… Until a saw a slow motion video of her running from the back. I discofered that one of her ankles just rotates as she lands (this ankle has been twisted many time). The arm swing was just compensation for that. I definatelly wouldn’t notice that without a video, she didn’t noticed too:)

  5. Bare Lee
    November 12, 2012

    Another alternative: run relatively fast once in a while, see how that feels, have your body internalize the feeling, then try to apply it to your slower paces, intellectually or by feel.

  6. Bryan
    November 11, 2012

    Well, it *is* kind of nice to see how I look from the “outside” without having to turn my head to look in the window. For example, I wouldn’t have realized that my left leg is not flexing as much at the knee because I recently injured it. I could see how the injury was causing me to compensate.