The Running Gait Cycle Explained

picture of Running Gait

Looking to learn more about the running gait cycle?

Well, you are in the right place.

In this (sort of technical) short blog post, I’ll teach you about the many components of running gait, gait cycle biomechanics, phases of running gait, and how to analyze your running gait cycle so you can improve your running form and performance.

Sounds great?

Let’s get started.

The Importance of The Running Gait Cycle?

Understanding gait cycle and its many components can help you pick the right running shoes and optimize your performance and training efficiency.

Not only that, learning more about your gait cycle can also help you better assess your running technique and biomechanics, which, in turn, is key for improving it.

Plus, some running experts suggest that assessing the way you run can also offer you many clues to the cause of a particular injury.

These are all valid reasons, if you ask me.

So, are you excited?

Then here we go.

running gait cycle

First things first, let’s define what gait actually means…

What is The Running Gait Cycle?

The gait cycle describes the continuous and repetitive pattern of walking or running —in other words, how we get from point A to point B.

More specifically, gait cycle biomechanics refers to a series of movements of the lower extremities—your legs— during locomotion which starts out when one foot strikes the ground and ends when the same foot strikes the ground again.

The gait cycle typically the same for all of us as it can be split into two main phases.

  • The Stance Phase—when the foot is in contact with the ground, and
  • The Swing Phase—when the foot is not in contact with the ground.

The phases of running gait includes both a stance and swing phase.

Note: During the walking cycle (not the topic of this post), there is a period known as double stance in which both feet are in contact with the ground.

The Stance Phase Of Running

The stance phase is the first phase of the gait cycle.

It begins when your heel makes contact with the ground, and it ends with the toe off.

When it comes to performance & injury prevention, the stance phase is usually under the spotlight as it’s the phase when your foot and leg bear your body weight.

The stance phase equates to roughly 60 percent of the walking gait cycle, and 40 percent of running gait cycle.

Just keep in mind that these proportions are not written in stone as they tend to change as the speed of walking or running increases (or decreases).

The stance phase can be further divided into three stages.

It starts with initial contact, followed by midstance, then propulsion.

Initial contact

Initial contact marks the beginning of the stance phase.

Also known as foot strike, this subphase starts when your foot makes contact with the ground after having been in the air—typically heel, midfoot, or forefoot strike, based on your running speed, running style,  biomechanics, etc.—and ends when the forefoot is in direct contact with the ground.

Think of initial contact as the cushioning phase of the gait cycle.

During this point in the gait, your foot is pronating at the subtalar joint, knee is slightly bent, and leg is internally rotating to help reduce the stress forces from the impact.

Mid Stance

Also known as single support phase, during the midstance, your foot flattens on the ground (moving from pronation into supination) to provide support as your body is moving forward over the leading foot while the other foot is in swing phase.

In essence, during this subphase, your body weight shifts from the back to the front of your foot, preparing for toe off and forward propulsion.

This means that all of your body weight is born by a single leg, which might make it prone to discomfort and overuse injury.

stance phase of running

The Toe Off/ Propulsion

The propulsion portion is the final stage of the stance phase.

It kicks off after the heel is off the ground and ends with the toes leaving the ground.

As you keep pushing forward, the heel starts lifting, while the muscles on the back of the leg—mainly the Gastrocs, Soleus, and Achilles Tendon—contract, resulting in plantar flexion of the ankle, allowing for toe off.

This subphase makes up the final 35 percent of the stance phase.

A common mistake beginners make is leaning too far forwards during the toe off.

This can hinder stride angle and might limit efficiency.

Instead, stay tall, aiming for a slight lean from the ankles.

The Swing Phase Of Running

The swing phase, or the “second phase of running”, refers to the time in which the foot is not in contact with the ground.

During this, your foot is swinging forward.

The swing phase starts with toe off and ends just before the foot hits the ground against, and a new gait cycle begins.

During this phase, your legs cycle through, ready for the next foot strike.

The swing phase is the longest phase of the running gait, making up the remaining 60 percent of the running gait, compared with 40 percent of the walking gait.

The swing phase of gait tends to be less relevant to running biomechanics for preventing injuries than the stance phase as there is no weight being born through the joints and muscles.

The main portion of this phase is known as the forward descent which occurs as the foot is being carried forward while it’s positioned for weight bearing.

Both the knee and the foot are flexed.

The swing phase ends at the heel contact, and a new gait cycle begins.

Additional resource – Guide to running lingo

What Is Running Gait Analysis

Gait analysis is no exercise in futility but a scientifically-based and reliable process.

Gait analysis is a scientific method for finding and understanding biomechanical abnormalities and challenges in your gait cycle.

A gait analysis can help a runner by identifying any underactive or overactive muscles in the feet, which could contribute to inefficiencies and overuse injuries in the future

In simple terms, running gait analysis is a way to assess your running style.

It draws a clear piece of the picture of your unique running technique.

What’s not to like!

The two crucial things that make normal gait possible are your posture and your foot interface with the ground.

Any abnormalities will force you to overcompensate.

This, over the long haul, causes damage and/or injury to the affected limbs.

There’s plenty of various types of gait analysis that you can perform, some more complex than others, and some easier to have done.

Usually, gait analysis requires taking a short video (from the front, rear, and side) of roughly 30 seconds of running on a treadmill in a neutral shoe with little to no cushioning.

This helps the professional to take an in-depth look at what your body looks like and how you move as you run on the treadmill, putting the focus on any abnormalities in your gait.

In general, runners are divided into three main categories: neutral, overpronators, and supinators.

Understanding your pronation type is key for choosing the right running shoes and hopefully helping avoid injury.

running gait analysis

How To Perform Gait Analysis

The cheapest way to analyze your gait involves a relatively quick (and usually free) treadmill test at a running specialty shop.

To get started, you’ll be put in a neutral shoe and start walking, or running, on a treadmill.

Then you run for a short period on the treadmill.

This allows the staff to assess how you’re landing, where you’re landing, and check for any biomechanical deficiencies within your ankles or knees.

The whole testing process may take 15 to 20 minutes.

Once the analysis is done, the staff will show you a frame by frame replay.

By analyzing the way you run and taking into consideration your fitness level, running goals, and injury history, the staff can make the right shoe recommendation that best suits your needs.

Gait Analysis Results

Some of the most common problems revealed and found out by gait analysis include;

  • Heel striking—when the foot lands in front of the hips.
  • Slow cadence—taking longer strides at a lower frequency.
  • Hip drop—caused by a lack of core strength
  • Lack of flexibility and strength, especially in the calves and glutes.

These issues, as well as others, can limit running performance and contributes to overuse injuries.

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Running Gait Cycle – The Conclusion

There you have it! If you’re curious about the phases of running and gait cycle biomechanics, then today’s post should get started on the right foot. The rest is just details.

Please feel free to leave your comments and questions in the section below.

Running Technique Guide – How To Improve Running Form for Beginners

couple running and have good running form

Looking to improve your running technique and improve  running form? Then you’ve come to the right place.

Here’s the truth: A few things are more natural to us than running.

according to evolutionary thinking (and running gurus like Chris MacDougal), one the things the human body is specifically designed for is running—and doing it for long distances.

That’s how our ancestors survived in the back old days.

Run for you life.

That’s not the whole story.

Some research even suggest that running is made us human in the first place.

(for a treasure trove of information and research references, check the Endurance Running Hypothesis Wikipedia Page).

Of course, I’m going somewhere with this.

Here’s the other, not so pleasant, truth: proper running technique doesn’t always come naturally for most of us.

In fact, one the most common mistakes runners make is training with bad form.

What makes this worse, according to my own experience, is that a lot of runners avoid talking about the subject.

I understand, everyone has a different opinion, but that’s not reason to scoff at the importance of proper running form altogether.

For these reasons, and some more, I decided to write an in-depth post about principles and practices of good proper running form.

By the end of this article, you’ll learn more about:

  • What is Running Form?
  • The Importance of Proper Running Form
  • Why running posture is key and how to improve it
  • Is Lean Gravity Running worth trying?
  • What to do with your Hands while running
  • The importance of staying relaxed while running
  • How cadence impacts your running technique
  • How to improve your foot strike
  • Drills to improve your running technique
  • And so much more.

I know it’s a lot to cover, but the topic of running technique deserves all the attention that it can get.

Sounds great?

let’s get started.

What is Running Form?

Also known as running mechanics, running technique, or style, running form refers to how you run.

The main factors include your running posture, foot strike, arm position, cadence, etc.

Each of these affects your running comfort, efficiency, and results.

The answer to what is proper running form is something we’re re going to discuss today, let’s first address why you should care.

The Importance of Good Running Technique

Proper running form is key for efficient and injury-free training.

Good running technique helps run farther, faster, and with fewer injuries.

Let your running form go south, and you could end up increasing your injury risk and compromising your performance.

This should convince you to learn how to run properly.

runner with good Running Form

Many Questions. Few Answers…

Proper running mechanics brings up more than questions than answers. Here are a few:

  • Should you land on the heel, the mid-foot, or forefoot?
  • How to run with a slight forward lean?
  • Is a long stride better than a short stride?
  • Is heel strike the enemy?
  • Should you breathe from the nose? The mouth? Or both?
  • Should beginner runners concern themselves with proper form?
  • Are proper form rules universal?
  • What does current scientific research say about proper running form?

This might sound like a lot to digest but it’s not rocket science.

In fact, there are a few basic principles of proper running form.

Once you learn about these basic elements and start practicing them during your runs, you’ll improve.

That’s a good thing if you ask me.

Would you like to learn more about these universal proper running technique rules? Then keep on reading.

Note: It Takes Time To Build Good Running Form

Learning any new skill—whether it’s a new language, how to use new software, or in your case, how to develop good running form—requires time and experimentation.

It doesn’t happen overnight.

But it’ll definitely help you ward off injuries and run more efficiently.

How To Improve Running Form for Beginners

Here are the exact guidelines you need to improve your running technique.

Your Running Posture

I never liked the word “posture.” The term has always conjured up images of people sitting in rigid positions, balancing books on their heads.

It’s one of those skills that require a lot of patience and effort to master—qualities I sorely lack.

Nonetheless, the importance of good posture is almost impossible to dismiss.

Proper posture — both on and off the running track — is essential to overall health and it’s the cornerstone of efficient and injury-free running.

Proper posture aligns everything in your body, helping your muscles, bones, tendons, and ligaments function properly and optimally.

By opting for good posture, you’ll help reduce the load on your skeletal muscles as well as enable your body to move more efficiently and freely.

It’s quite literally the foundation of every step you take.

Bad Posture on The Run

Some of you may never have experienced this, but few things can ruin a run—especially a long run—like bad posture.

It can cause neck, shoulder, and back pain, wastes energy, interferes with your running gait, and contributes to overuse injury.

What’s the link between bad posture and these issues?

It’s not that complicated.

Just like good posture ensures proper body alignment, poor posture achieves the opposite.

It places excessive stress on your muscles and joints, overusing them and making them tense.

That saddles you with a slew of performance and health issues—and you don’t want that.

I know this because I’m speaking from personal experience.

I had all sorts of problems that were probably a result of bad posture.

For a long time, my lower and middle back felt sore and tired, even following a short run.

I also had a burning pain between my shoulder blades and in my lower back after sitting for no more than an hour.

Making matters even worse, my poor posture made me look a few inches shorter and many pounds heavier.

Once I started improving my posture, most of these issues simply went away.

I still get a bit of back pain now and then, but it’s not as intense, nor does it occur as frequently as it used to, even though I’m working longer hours and running more miles than ever before.

Enter Strength and Mobility Training

In an attempt to fix my habitual slouching, I tried out a mix of techniques for posture correction.

As far as I can tell, what helped me the most was the strength and mobility exercises known for dealing with the underlying issues behind bad posture.

Good posture begins with the correct body angle.

Here’s is how to improve it:

  • Keep your spine straight, shoulders relaxed and back with a slight forward lean.
  • Keep your torso straight and avoid sticking your chest or butt out too far.
  • Focus on engaging your core muscles. A strong and tight core is the foundation of good posture and efficient running.

To get a tactile sense of proper posture, stand up straight against a wall.

Push your butt firmly against the wall while keeping the chest up, core engaged, and back flat.

This is the posture in which you should run.

You can also imagine there is a plum line running from above your head down through your trunk is a perfect vertical line.

What’s more?

Check your running posture every 10 to 15 minutes to make sure everything is all right and on the right path.

Lean Gravity Assisted Running

Another thing you can do to build proper running form is to practice gravity assisted  running—as long as you’re doing it the right way, of course.

All you have to do is to shoot for a slight forward tilt—roughly two to three degrees—in which you’re falling forward from your ankles, not the waist.

When leaning this way, you’re engaging the forward pull of gravity.

Just whatever you do, avoid leaning too far forward or too far back.

You should also avoid bending backward or forward from the waist as this puts a lot of pressure on the hips.

A good example of perfect forward lean is the Nordic ski jumpers.

Your Head While Running

To ensure proper head position so you can run properly, do the following:

(1)    Keep your head high and centered between the shoulders.

(2)    Gaze directly roughly 10 to 15 feet ahead of you.

(3)    Never look at your feet as doing leads to slouching, which is bad form at its worst.

(4)    Don’t tilt your chin up or down—that usually occurs when we started to get tired.

Doing the above puts your neck in proper alignment with your spine, ensuring an adequate flow of energy throughout your body.

Your Shoulders While Running

Your shoulders drive proper arm motion.

Keep your shoulders relaxed and under your ears.

Hunching the shoulders creates tensions and restricts breathing—all of which can lead to inefficient form.

Your Arms While Running

Arm position is as important to running performance as your leg motion.

Sure, running is mainly a lower-body sport, but that doesn’t mean you should toss the importance of your arms to the side.

They’re not just there along for the ride.

Efficient arm position can boost speed, improve balance, increase your overall coordination and rhythm.

Here’s how to improve arm position while running:

  • Keep your arms at your sides. Make sure your arms and legs are swinging in rhythm with each other.
  • Keep your elbows bent at approximately 90-degree angle with your elbows somewhat pointed away from the torso.
  • Move your arms in conjunction with your legs.
  • Swing your arms forward and back, not across your body. This also allows your shoulders and neck to relax.

Your Hands While Running

Your hands regulate tension in your upper body.

Tightness can create tension up in the back and shoulders.

Here’s what to do with your hands when pounding the pavement:

  • Keep your hands in an unclenched fist, with the finger and thumbs lightly touch, hand cupped as though you are holding a delicate butterfly or an egg that you don’t want to crush nor break.
  • Do not let your hands cross the centerline of your body. The forearms should swing slightly across the body. But the hands should never cross this centerline.
  • Swing your arms to the read, not the front. Imagine that you’re trying to elbow someone behind you instead of punching someone in front of you.

Your Knees While Running

Maintain a continuous slight bend in the knee throughout the gait cycle.

Keep your leading knee slightly bent and relaxed as you land a little in front of your center of gravity.

A slight bend in the knees can also help absorb the impact of a foot strike.

couple running and have good running form

Stay Relaxed Running

Keeping tension in your body is the last thing you want.

It wastes energy and wherever you’re clinging to it, you’re misusing energy that could be (and should) spent elsewhere.

That’s not the whole story.

Feeling tense sucks, while on the other hand, it feels good to feel relaxed—that’s something you can’t argue with.

To stay relaxed while running, do the following:

  • Know your tension spots, and do your best co consciously release tension whenever and wherever it’s creeping up. Some of the most common tension spots are the hands, shoulder, and jaw.
  • Keep your shoulders back and loose. If you feel tightness in this area, then just drop your arms, open your hands, then shake them out for a moment.
  • Unclench your jaw. Let it slacken and your eyes to droop and soften. Your facial muscles have a great impact on the degree of tension in your entire body.
  • Unclasp your fists. Imagine that you’re holding a delicate egg in each hand that you don’t want to crush. Tension here can set the stage for tension and improper form.
  • Breathe deep. Instead of relying on your chest, engage your diaphragm—your belly—to draw in deeper and more powerful inhales and exhales.

Know your Cadence For Proper Running Mechanics

Also known as leg turnover, cadence is the technical term that refers to the number of times your feet hit the ground while running.

Cadence is a crucial part of proper running mechanics.

Proper cadence helps reduce stress on feet, knees, and ankles, improving running efficiency—all of which can reduce injury risk and improve running performance.

So what is the ideal cadence?

According to experts, a cadence of 170 to 180 steps per minute is the optimal range to run properly.

This is something I learned from the legendary running coach Jack Daniels (you should check some of his stuff here, he is an incredible inspiration).

Here is what to do next:

First of all, determine your cadence before trying to improve it.

To find your cadence, count the number of strides on one foot for 30 seconds, then multiply it by four.

Next, if your running cadence is under 180, then work on increasing it by approximately five percent every three to four weeks until you reach your goal cadence.

Keep in mind that your cadence varies according to your running intensity.

For instance, your speedwork or racing cadence will be much faster than your typical training cadence. Consequently, you should aim to settle on your number for both types of runs.

Foot Strike & Good Running Technique

Most of the above principles of good running form are universally agreed upon by nearly all experts, whether they are biomechanics pundits, elite athletes, or coaches.

But when it comes to foot strike, the topic is still a sticking point in today’s running world.

Foot strike is about how and where your foot should hit the ground during a running stride.

By and large, there are only three types of a foot strike: forefoot strike (FFS), mid-foot strike (MFS), and rearfoot strike (RFS).

And the bad news is there is no clear-cut evidence that says that one strike pattern is better than the other.

However, and while there no enough evidence to support one method over the other, I would suggest a mid-foot strike, especially if you are a beginner.

I believe that landing this way puts the least amount of stress on the knees and ankle while helping you generate a stronger push off.

This should help you run properly.

Here is how: while running, do your best to land on your midfoot (or on the area between your heel and midfoot, then quickly roll forward onto the toes, popping off the ground and engaging your glutes on each step.

Just make sure to land as softly as possible—just like a ninja.

I hate to sound like a broken record, but please take this tip with a grain of salt.

Truth be told, it doesn’t’ matter where your foot to land as long as it feels right and you are not experiencing any post-run aches and pains in your lower limbs.

So you going to have to try it and see for yourself.

Everybody is different and runs differently, but at least, remember that you have a choice, and if something isn’t working, you can always change it.

Additional Resource – Your guide to treadmill running form

Run Your Own Way

With all that being said, proper running form is very personal.

As previously mentioned, what is crucial is to cultivate proper running technique habits.

And over time, you’ll tone your technique and be able to find what works the best for your unique body type and mechanics.

What I recommend that you do is to develop your own running style while putting into consideration the above laws for proper movement.

That’s why, in the end, you need to run as naturally as possible.

In other words, let your running technique conform to your physiology.

Your running form must fit your personal needs.

Not the other way around.

To get instant feedback so you can run properly, join a running group of more experienced runners.

These running clubs typically include runners from a variety of fitness backgrounds and levels, some of whom might be able to help you improve both your technique and training approach.

Just be open to honest criticism.

You might not like what you hear.

But that’s a part of the learning process.

Every runner is unique and has a slightly different style of running.

That’s fine.

Just embrace the learning process, keep track of your performance and training enjoyment, and you’ll be on the right path.

And the more you run, the better you’ll get at judging good technique

Additional Resource – Why is my running not improving



To re-cap: when it comes to building proper running form, run tall with a slight forward lean, keep your body relaxed the entire time, improve your cadence, and find the foot strike that suits you the best (mine is the forefoot strike). And that’s it.

As a recreational runner—even if you take your running a bit more serious than the average joe—I don’t think you will need sophisticated from analysis to get the hangs of proper form.

Just keep your focus on the basics of proper running form and you will undoubtedly reap the rewards of proper form: efficient running and fewer injuries. And that will make your daily runs a lot more fun for sure.

And please be gradual about changing your form. In my experience, the fastest way to get injured is to try to change everything overnight—so just give it time and change one thing at a time while listening to your body’s feedback and staying within your fitness level the entire time. Then it’s just a matter of time before you master good running form.

In the meantime, thank you for reading my post.

Go out there and RUN!