NHS Choices fitness editor Steven Shukor visits StrideUK in Hove, Sussex, to have his running style analysed.
While I enjoy exercising, I’ve never been much of a runner – I’ve got a dodgy right knee to blame for that. Typically, I’d be running for about 35 minutes and suddenly my knee would seize up, forcing me to stop.
A bit of research online and talking to some running friends led me to conclude that I had all the typical symptoms of "runner’s knee". Not a condition itself, runner’s knee is a loose term for several specific running-related disorders with different causes. In my case, my kneecap felt like it was being pulled to one side.
I’ve seen GPs, consultants and physiotherapists. I get a different explanation every time and nobody has given me a definitive answer about what’s wrong. An MRI scan revealed there was nothing structurally wrong with my knee, but the attending consultant suggested I had a short patellar tendon.
I was given a series of exercises to do daily to strengthen the muscles around the right knee. They seemed to help a little, but I found the most effective treatment for my knee pain was not to run at all.
When NHS Choices was invited by StrideUK in Hove, Sussex, to shoot a video about running technique, I had no hesitation in volunteering to be a guinea pig.
Set up by Mitchell and Elle Phillips in 2008, StrideUK specialises in analysing your running technique from head to toe from several angles. They cater for runners of all abilities, from absolute beginners to professional athletes, helping them to reduce pain and injury and improve performance.
Mitchell, a sports injury and postural rehabilitation specialist for 10 years, greets me with a big warm smile and a firm handshake.
He says: "There is no ideal running style. Everyone’s body shape is different. Running technique is quite an individual thing. So at StrideUK, we work on fine-tuning your individual running style to improve performance and reduce your risk of injury."
We begin the session by discussing my medical history, injuries, my exercise regime and my running goals. My legs, neck and back are marked up with lines and crosses in non-permanent ink, and little fluorescent yellow dots are stuck on my trainers.
'My Rocky IV moment'
Then it’s on to the Sprintex treadmill, which has slates instead of a traditional belt to help replicate the natural motion of running. Two cameras are pointing at me – one from the side and one from behind – and the images are relayed to a flat screen and a desktop computer.
With my body marked up and my shirt off, surrounded by all this hi-tech gear and bright lights, I feel like Ivan Drago in Rocky IV. It’s quite empowering!
Mitchell says his approach to running technique analysis is to look at the movement of the whole body instead of just the feet.
"We specialise in assessing your entire running technique and not just what your feet are doing," he says. "Full body analysis helps us identify any muscular imbalances you may have that often restrict performance and make you vulnerable to injury."
The running itself takes only nine minutes. I’m filmed running from my left side and my right, at different speeds and with my running shoes on and barefoot.
"We look for any muscle imbalances that could cause vulnerability to injury if you were to increase intensity, duration or frequency," he says. "Muscle tightness, postural issues and poor technique can cause injury over time, and prevent you from improving."
After the run, I sit down with Mitch and colleague Matt Phillips, a strength and conditioning coach with 20 years' experience, for a 30-minute debrief. We review the video of my running, looking at my body movement at different stages of my stride, in real time and in slow motion.
The analysis reveals I have weak hamstrings (muscles behind the thigh), and tight quadriceps (muscles in front of the thigh), hip flexors (muscles above the thigh) and buttock muscles.
Matt says: "Over time, tight quadriceps and weak hamstrings will cause your pelvis to tilt downwards, which can cause compression in your lower back. If you get lower back pain during or after a run, it suggests the cause may be tight quadriceps, so it's important to stretch them frequently."
After the debrief, it's on to the exercise area, where Matt talks me through a series of exercises designed to correct my muscle imbalances.
Matt says: "As with any sport, you can improve your running with conditioning exercises appropriate to your individual running style."
Matt tells me I need to perform these individually tailored strength and flexibility exercises regularly. Take a look at my report card, which includes a summary of my gait analysis and conditioning programme.
"Changing your running style can't happen through consciously forced technique changes," he says. "Instead, they need to be learned over time with the right conditioning exercises, which will gradually correct your running technique."
I leave StrideUK with a better understanding of my own body and with renewed enthusiasm for running.
Although prices for this kind of service vary around the country, most start at around £100 a session.