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How to Determine Your Running Gait

Your gait is a major influence on your running shoe selection. Here's how to find your gait type to make lacing up in the right sneakers a breeze.

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Finding the perfect running shoes can seem almost impossible. There are so many categories to choose from! But figuring out what style is right for your footprint doesn't need to be a complicated. All you need to know is what you want to accomplish, where you plan to run, and the details of your personal gait.

What Is Your Running Gait?

"Gait" may sound like jargon, but it's simple: your gait is your running stride. A stride entails how and where your feet land in a running motion, as well the path your leg takes to propel you through forward. A stride encompasses one full gait cycle, or a full motion where one foot lands, swings up and lands again.

Your running gait is unique to your individual body mechanics, meaning no two strides are alike. However, every runner goes through the same phases throughout their gait. Your gait is essentially your running fingerprint.

Running Gait Phases

Stance Phase

The stance phase of your running gait is when your foot is making contact with your running surface. This segment begins at initial contact, or when your foot first strikes the ground as it absorbs the impact force at its peak. There are basically three different ways this happens.

  • Heel strikers make initial contact with the back of their foot.
  • Midfoot strikers make a flatter initial contact, landing atop the middle of the arch.
  • Forefoot strikers make impact with the ball of their foot, closer to the toes.

    Following initial contact is the midstance where your arch compresses and naturally rolls inward to bear your entire bodyweight. That natural inward roll is what's known as pronation.

    As the arch compresses, it's getting ready to recoil and propel you through the next segment of the stance phase, known as the toe off. This is where your bodyweight transitions from directly over your foot to out in front. Your forefoot bends and digs into the ground as your arch stiffens straight, creating a strong base to help propel you forward with maximum efficiency and into the next phase of your stride.

    Swing Phase

    This is the portion where your leg is, well, swinging freely in the air rather than bearing the lode of your frame. The swing phase lasts from the moment the leg is airborne until it nearly touches back down to engage in another initial contact. There is some overlap between swing phases across your right and left feet, which is most identifiable when you're in-between contact points. Known as the float phase, this is why still images of runners in a full sprint make it look like they're hovering atop the road, trail or track.

    But your gait isn't just about your legs. Arm swing is also a component. Working in opposition to your legs — your right arm goes forward when your left leg is back, etc — this action is pivotal to your performance in that it helps make forward propulsion more efficient while also offsetting the hip rotation to keep you running forward straight.

    a man jogging and running
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    How Does This All Affect My Running Shoes?

    Your running gait is important in that knowing the components of it can help you better defend against potential injuries and improve your overall performance in the discipline. After all, while it might seem like a simple motion, running can put a ton of strain on your muscles and joints with each strike, twist and toe off. One of the easiest ways to help lessen the physical impact of this is by matching your gait type to the right pair of sneakers.

    Running Gait Types


    As stated before, all runners experience a natural inward roll at the midstance — roughly 15 percent. Neutral running gaits have this natural inward roll and nothing more. The outside, or lateral portion, of your foot makes contact first, followed by the inward roll and transition, culminating with a balanced, neutral toe off. Neutral gaits can benefit most from neutral running shoes that don't feature any stabilizing or corrective components to help get your footstrike back into a more natural plane.


    This type of running gait is experienced when that natural inward roll extends past the 15 degrees, limiting the ability for your arch and ankle to absorb that intense stress. This can leave you with potential discomfort and may lead to injuries down the road. For this gait, runners should look to stride in stability running shoes that showcase various structures and midsole constructions to guide your midstance back into that desired stance.


    Also known as underpronation, this gait type occurs when your foot lands on its lateral side and rolls outward instead of inward. Runners that showcase supination should look for well-cushioned running shoes to help level out their landing surface while also protecting that lateral portion from excessive stress.

    Now that you know a little more about what your running gait is, here are a few ways you can determine which gait you experience.

    unrecognizable people running on treadmills in a gym
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    How to Determine Your Running Gait

    Basic: Treadwear Analysis

    One of the easiest ways to get a quick understanding of your specific running gait is by looking at the soles of your regular running shoes. Where the treadwear occurs can provide a basic understanding of your initial contact, midstance and toe off patterns, as this is where you land and push off from more often than not.

    • Neutral gait: Even wear across the ball and heel of the foot.
    • Overpronating gait: Excessive wear on the inside, or medial, portion of the foot.
    • Supinating gait: Excessive wear on the lateral portion of the foot.

      Intermediate: The Wet Foot Test

      For a more involved approach to identifying your gait type, you can perform whats known as the Wet Foot Test. Simply wet the bottom of your foot, step onto a paper towel or piece of paper, step off and examine your left behind footprint. In this test, you're looking mostly at the arch of your foot, which can also lend to certain gaits.

      • Flat arches: Arches are very low or not visible, which can indicate a more flexible footbed that's more inclined to overpronation.
      • Medium arches: Arches are average or moderate in thickness, showcasing the ball and heel connected by a thick band. This typically indicates a normal foot pattern and neutral gait.
      • High arches: The lateral band connecting the forefoot and heel is very thin, showcasing a more rigid foot structure that's more likely to suffer from supination.

        Advanced: In-Person Gait Analysis

        If you're a little nervous to self diagnose your running gait, there's no need to fear. Many sporting goods stores and running specialty shops offer complimentary gait analysis services, taking the guesswork out of choosing the right shoes for your specific footprint. This process, like the service provided by Dick's Sporting Goods, typically has you run atop a treadmill for a short period of time as a professional looks at your stride from multiple angles. Others, like Fleet Feet's fit id Outfitting Process, use 3D scanning technologies to analyze your footprint with precise measurements, along with pressure maps for more informed diagnoses. There's no right or wrong method here, but having an outside source look at your stride takes the headache out of the equation, and the fact that most of these services are complimentary is another perk, indeed.

        Understanding your running gait doesn't need to be a complicated matter. With this background information and measurement options, you can surely find a proper pair of running shoes to keep your training, comfort and performance all in stride.

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