Have you ever really watched yourself run? The answer is probably no. Maybe you’ve seen a short clip taken with a loved one’s cell phone as you breezed by during a marathon. Or perhaps you’ve picked out your tiny self on the finish line cam at a race. And, let’s be real, you’ve probably sneakily watched your reflection in a storefront window or in the mirror at the gym. It turns out, you can learn a lot by really watching yourself run, especially when you also have a certified professional really watch you run and break down your form frame by frame in a process known as Video Gait Analysis.
I’ve been injured for so long (since October, kids!) and gone through months of physical therapy to attack problem after problem, many of which were the result of compensation for other issues. A few weeks ago when I began my latest round of PT, my physical therapist suggested I undergo Video Gait Analysis (VGA). It would allow them to see exactly how my injuries were affecting my running form and to pinpoint weaknesses to target in my therapy. In short: it could help me recover while becoming a stronger, more efficient runner. Zero downside.
I was told to wear my usual running shoes, shorts and a shirt that was a different color than my shorts. I hopped on the treadmill and put the speed at a “comfortable” pace. I warmed up for about five minutes before filming began, mostly to make sure I was running naturally and not “posing” for the camera. Chris, the physical therapist/VGA expert, set up the video camera and recorded me running for a couple minutes from each angle (back, front, left, right). All told, the recording process took about 20 minutes. And, because it was part of my rehab, my insurance paid the total cost. Score!
The very next PT session, my physical therapist began incorporating Chris’ preliminary VGA findings into my routine (more on that in a minute). About a week later, I received a fancy CD-ROM (yes, those are still a thing), complete with my VGA, screen shots, notes and exercises to do at home. Unfortunately, I couldn’t actually watch the video part of the Video Gait Analysis; it was PC-based software and I’m an Apple gal all the way. A few IT-related snafus later, I finally had my VGA, and I watched it with Adrea and Sara before our trip to the Madison Half Marathon.
What I Learned
Screen shots of two of the biggest problems revealed in my VGA: knee collapse and hip drop.
The results were not quite as ugly as I’d feared; frankly, I was a little afraid to see just how imperfect my running form is. A lot of things were good – arm swing, push off, posture, foot strike — but the laundry list of issues stems from a recurring culprit: weak glutes. In other words, I literally need to get my butt in gear. Here’s a quick recap of what my VGA revealed about my running form:
Issue: “Lateral trunk lean” ( i.e. leaning torso toward the weakened side; in my case, the left)
Solution: Strengthen hip abductors and glutes
Issue: Poor stability when landing
Solution: Improve single-leg balance
Issue: “Hip drop” on both sides (For example, when only the right leg is planted, it means the entire left side is “cantilevered” over the left hip. If the right hip muscles aren’t firing correctly, the pelvis and upper body tilt downward on the left side.)
Solution: Strengthen hip abductors and glutes Issue: Slow cadence Solution: Increase cadence to 180 steps per minute
Solution: Increase cadence and take smaller steps
Solution: Shoes with increased stability, custom orthotics and increase ankle strength
Issue: Knees “collapsing” when landing
Solution: Strengthen eccentric quads, hips, glutes and calves to improve stability
The unsolved mystery is whether all of these issues are the result of or the cause of my injuries. I’m guessing it’s a combination of both, but I sure wish I had a VGA of my running form from last summer so I could compare them.
In the weeks following my VGA, my physical therapy has grown much more intense as I work to heal, strengthen and change my muscle memory. Squats of all shapes and sizes. Running and hopping on a trampoline and Bosu ball balance/strength exercises, all in front of a mirror so I can watch the angles of my knees, hips and ankles. It’s HARD, and I feel like I’ve had an actual workout when I’m done, not like I paid good money just to do a bunch of lame stretches.
Left: Knee collapse
Right: No knee collapse!
As a result, I’ve incorporated changes to my running form. My cadence is back up in the 175-180 range — where it was pre-injury — and I’ve shortened my stride. My trunk lean and hip drop are decreasing as my strength increases. But the biggest change I’ve made is keeping my knees from collapsing, both when running and standing in general. When I first started concentrating on this, it felt like I was practically spread-eagle, even though at a glance, it is hardly noticeable. After about a month, it’s becoming a natural movement, and that minor adjustment also has helped limit my overpronation and improved my posture.
Upon my physical therapist’s recommendation, I also saw a podiatrist. My custom orthotics will be ready for pickup in a couple weeks, at which time, I’m going to get fitted for some new kicks at my friendly neighborhood running store to carry me through the rest of marathon training.
This whole experience — my injury, physical therapy and now VGA — has taught me a ton about my body and running and how everything is connected. I know I’ll never have “perfect” running form, but at least now I have the tools and the knowledge to keep striving — and striding — toward my own version of perfection. And hopefully that version includes far, far fewer injuries. — Mags