The intricacies of the human body in motion — muscles flexing, joints hinging, cells powering a system of anatomical thrust — is a feat of cosmic proportion, a biological achievement where Newtonian laws and the limits of locomotion mix to move a beating, breathing form through space and time.
Some people just call it running.
On a treadmill earlier this year in Boulder, Colo., I paced alone in the audience of an exercise physiologist as a runner long on quest for the perfect stride. Like many casual runners, I have worked to refine my technique and running style. I train with a heart-rate monitor and know the type of shoe that fits my foot.
But despite training thousands of hours over the years and completing a half-dozen marathons, I have never sought more than the basic advice on my body’s method for plodding forward on a plane.
Thus the test in Boulder.
The procedure, a $350 gait analysis at the Boulder Center for Sports Medicine, involved a clinical exam, stop-motion video, and software that calculated angulations in my hips, ankles and knees. My assessor, Tim Hilden, an exercise physiologist, mixed a thorough medical evaluation with time spent observing me sweat and run on a treadmill.
“This test gives amateur athletes the type of treatment often reserved for the pros,” Hilden said.
Basic gait-analysis tests are offered for free or at a low cost at running shops across the country. I investigated a few examples near my home in Minneapolis. Run on a treadmill at a shop like StartLine in Minnetonka, Minn., and a salesperson can try and see from your stride what type of shoe you should wear. “We watch your stride and listen to the sound of the shoe as you run,” said Monica Wenmark, owner of StartLine.
At TC Running Company, a shop in Eden Prairie, Minn., Kurt Decker asks to see customers’ used shoes to discern patterns on the tread, which reveal stride habits. “Wear on the sole never lies,” Decker said.
More in-depth, Gear West, a shop in Long Lake, Minn., charges $25 for time with a contracted physical therapist. The shop has a short indoor track and tests a runner’s balance while standing, hip alignment, posture, and stride. It is a half-hour analysis that includes an assessment of past injuries or pain, current training regimens, and fitness goals.
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