Running Performance – Video Gait Analysis Part 1 (Footage)

Next up in our running performance series is Video Gait Analysis, and this is Part 1 of 3. We’re going to talk about how to record running video so that you have good data for evaluation. And potentially, using your findings to fine-tune your running mechanics can help you to simultaneously improve performance and reduce injury risk.

This information is for athletes and coaches alike. If you are self-coached, or just curious what your running form looks like, you’ll know how to capture good video footage. If you have a coach, you can send it to him/her for review. If you are a coach, but don’t have a lot of experience in gait analysis, this article will help you get started. And if you are a physical therapist or biomechanics clinician who wants to dive a bit deeper into this subject, it’s a great place to start.

To provide a preview, after we cover recording footage in Part 1, Part 2 will reveal what to look for in terms of basic stride mechanics and potential flaws or issues. Part 3 will then offer some suggestions around training, cueing, and corrective exercises should they be indicated.

The reason I wanted to start with a how-to in filming your running is because if you don’t do it right, you don’t get footage that’s very useful. Fortunately, the process is fairly simple and intuitive. I’ll go over the main considerations next.

Camera: These days things are pretty easy in the camera department. Any smartphone, GoPro, or vidcam is entirely adequate. You might be able to set your device up by placing or propping it on a table or bench but a tripod will be preferred, especially if you are filming solo.

Location: You want a smooth, level surface free of distractions. A track or soccer field is ideal, but a quiet stretch of street will do fine also.

Field of View: This will be dependent upon speed, but 20-40 meters is plenty.

Direction of Travel: You are going to want to take 4 clips.

  • Going straight away from the camera (back view)
  • Coming straight toward the camera (front view)
  • Running right to left (side view 1)
  • Running left to right (side view 2)
  • *If you have a drone or high stadium, you can also take a top down view which is nice for examining rotation, but not essential.

Pace: This will be very specific to your target race (or usual run) speed. For sprinters, I like to have them run at about 90% of max speed. For distance runners, I’ll encourage them to run at race pace for their preferred distance, whether that be mile, 5k, or marathon pace, etc. The reason for this is that we want to assess form where it impacts performance the most.

Warmup: Make sure you are adequately prepped to run comfortably at the pace/speed you are targeting.

Run-Up Zone: You’ll want a run-up zone approximately equal to the filming zone that you’ve set up in your camera’s field of view. This way you are at speed and capturing consistent video. The one exception to this rule would be filming starts and acceleration phases, which don’t require a run-up.

Self-Filming: This works fine. You can just position your camera, start it, jog over to your take-off point, and run through the filming zone. Then trot over, stop recording and set up for the next shot.

Separate Camera Operator: This is a luxury but isn’t necessary. If you have a separate videographer, he/she can give you start instructions, pan or zoom the camera if desired, and save you a little back and forth time. 

Lighting: It’s generally best to front-light the subject so you can see all the details. This means the sun will be located behind the camera.

Natural Stride: Try to imagine that you are not being filmed (or give that instruction to your athlete) so that you capture your natural running form. Don’t try to run perfectly if that is different from your usual technique.

Audio: If your location is quiet, and particularly if you are running relatively fast, I like to capture the audio. This can reveal valuable information about footstrike and symmetry.

Real-Time vs. Slow-Motion: This may actually depend on how you plan to view or edit the film. As a professional with 40 years of experience watching athletes run, I prefer real-time footage and it allows me to see and appreciate the patterns most effectively. However, most athletes and clients I’ve worked with really benefit from slowing down the video in key areas. Depending on the equipment you are using and your location, you might want to film both in real-time and slow-motion, thus doing 2 of each of the 4 directions for a total of 8 reps. This only takes a few minutes.

Clip Length: This will be dependent on your field of view and pace, but realistically you only need about 3-5 seconds of footage for each clip. You can always trim things up a bit to make it cleaner and keep file size small.

Editing: The choices here are nearly endless. For quick edits, such as drawing lines or arrows, using Markup in Preview or QuickTime is a great choice. You can manipulate the video further in iMovie and similar software. For really detailed analysis work there are many great choices. One of my favorites is Dartfish, which allows you to do all sorts of fancy things like superimposing multiple freeze frames and having infinite speed adjustments. Honestly, for most runners, just being able to watch a video a few times, maybe slow it down and stop it once in a while, is about all you need.

So there you go. These are simple tips that can help you to capture good video footage of your running form. If you’d like to follow these steps and grab a few clips, I’ll show you how to analyze your form in the next edition. And after that, if you decide you’ve got something to work on to improve your running economy, I’ll help you to do that also. Thank you for reading and I hope all of your movement can be graceful and artistic.

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