Use This Simple and Effective Method to Analyze Your Running Pattern


During this week of exercise physiology lab classes at UMass Lowell, students learned how to administer two submaximal aerobic capacity tests: the Rockport Walk Test and the Cooper 1.5-mile Run Test.

During the Cooper 1.5-mile run test, subjects were asked to run 1.5 miles as fast as possible. As an adjunct to learning, I find this an opportune time to discuss running patterns and how they alter with changes to step rate, stride length, cadence, and speed. We debate the changes we anticipate will return with an increase in running speed, and how varying running patterns can lead to an increase or decrease in the forces transmitted up the kinetic chain and how it is related to an increase in running-related injuries. And we end by confirming with video analysis.


With the invention of smartphones and the slow-motion feature embedded in all cameras, providing valuable visual evidence of the gait pattern is easy (see videos below)! There are pricier apps and computer software which do add value depending on your client or patient population, but they aren’t for all clinics.

But we also take time to talk about how to properly analyze running gait mechanics. Given that my students this semester are undergraduates, and do not have the higher-level knowledge base, I prefer using a simple method I was introduced to a while back in an article written by Christopher Johnson, a physical therapist from Seattle, WA who specializes in the endurance athletes but mainly runners.

Chris calls it “The Four S’s of Running Analysis” and it includes:

  1. SoundIs it loud or quiet? Is the sound symmetrical between left and right?
  2. Strike: Is it rearfoot (heel strike), midfoot, or forefoot? Is it symmetrical between left and right?
  3. Step Rate: A higher step rate while keeping velocity constant reduces the risk for running-related injuries
  4. Speed: Runners at lower speeds tend to use calf muscles more; at higher speeds we use more of our hips to maintain running speed

This simple method concisely summarizes many of the items physical therapists (including myself) use when doing a running gait analysis but without the complexities of a detailed sub-analysis. It is ideal for students or novice clinicians, as it does the job to help identify other areas to investigate. Ideally, experienced physical therapists will take it a step (pun intended) further.

But I also believe that with proper teaching, clients and patients can utilize this method to become more in-tune with their running pattern on a basic level, which can reduce running-related injuries from occurring AND reoccurring. Always seek out an experienced physical therapist for an in-depth analysis of your running gait pattern. 

Below is the footage I recorded of two subjects performing the Cooper 1.5-mile Run Test. First, some background on the two subjects:

  1. Student A: 20-year-old female long-distance runner who specializes in 1-mile, 5k, and 10k events (5:07 mile pace)
  2. Student B: 20-year-old female lacrosse player who runs as part of her training and conditioning (6:00 mile pace)

What do you see in the videos based on "The Four S's of Running Analysis"?

Subject A

Subject B