Written by: Sean Rimmer, PT, DPT, OCS
The activity of running is something we can all do, though it may look slightly different for each individual. This can be due to a multitude of factors including (but not limited to) the anatomy of an individual, mobility, strength, coordination, fitness, etc. However, if you've ever appreciated higher level (faster) runners, we start to see similar trends in running form. The posture, the hip extension, the tight arm swing, the hip/knee drive during swing, and the short ground contact time is beautiful to watch! That's because when it comes down to it, running truly is a SKILL, and improving efficiency starts with form awareness. Do you really know how you are running?
In my practice, I've analyzed A LOT of individuals run, and I've seen a lot of different strategies, some strategies more efficient than others! One of the strategies I see regularly is a low gear push off during terminal stance. So, what exactly is a low gear push off?
Let me explain.
We first need to differentiate between a low gear and a high gear push off. This can be best appreciated from a posterior view (behind) of the runner, as we look for the motion of the foot interacting with the ground during push off. A low gear push off is when the runner pushes off in terminal stance through the lesser toes or the outside of the foot. A high gear push off is when the runner pushes off through the big toe.
Don't get me wrong, you can run with both strategies and get away with it...BUT, if you want to improve your efficiency and potentially reduce the risk of an over-use injury on the lateral (outside) portion of the foot, then moving into a high gear pattern is important. If I view this running pattern in someone's gait, I then tend to look at a single leg calf raise to slow things down. This is where I can truly appreciate how they navigate motion through the foot. Often times, it comes down to a few different reasons why this occurs:
Lack of awareness or impaired coordination
Reduced rear-foot, mid-foot, or big toe extension mobility
Reduced strength in the calf muscle complex as well as the peroneus longus muscle
Impaired loading response (energy storage) after the foot loads into the ground