Rachel Grunwell

Rachel Grunwell is a fitness writer for the Herald on Sunday.

Fitness Challenge: Check your gait

Each week Rachel Grunwell will try out a new form of exercise to bring you the lowdown

Rachel wears Oscar Milmosa luxury singlet $100,Running Bare Bionic full-length tights $120 and adidas BOOST shoes $220. Photo / Michael Craig
Rachel wears Oscar Milmosa luxury singlet $100,Running Bare Bionic full-length tights $120 and adidas BOOST shoes $220. Photo / Michael Craig

Sports Lab

What is it? A rehabilitation and performance clinic where experts can scientifically assess sportspeople of all levels, but particularly runners. They help prevent injuries and repair existing injuries. They have physiotherapy, podiatry and massage experts on site.

What's needed? Sportswear and shoes (current shoes as well as previous shoes, if available), water.

The experience: Lately I've been running with trainer Gaz Brown's GetRunning crew, an outfit that coaches people on how to conquer marathons and half marathons. I know. Even I'm amazed I have it in me. Anyhow, Gaz mentions I should visit Sports Lab to check my running style. Although, I'd probably call it a lack of style at this stage.

Sports Lab helps repair injuries but it's also big on prehabilitation assessments - an ambulance at the top of the cliff that helps people learn how to run correctly and subsequently how to avoid injuries.

If you're doing something the right way you generally enjoy it more and get better at it.

So I kick along to the lab and see Aaron Jackson (a podiatrist) and Vaughan Craddock (a physio). They've both held national titles over different running distances and represented New Zealand at world championships. But Vaughan says to just call them "running geeks". Vaughan tells me that because of their backgrounds they've likely made many of the mistakes they want to help their clients avoid.

I tell them I'd like to become a "running geek" too. I'm currently more turtle, less hare ... perhaps they can help me lift my game.

I'm keen to know how I can avoid getting dodgy knees, shin splints, blisters and other nasties.

So the lads put me through a series of tests, such as running at different speeds on a treadmill, which they film; stepping on a mat that's got sensors linked to a computer to see where I put pressure on my feet, and they then assess my gait - how my body moves during running.

A whole bunch of numbers, diagrams and colours flash about on their computer and the results are science you can't argue with. For example, the angle of my pelvis and how my feet strike the ground can be factors that can lead to certain injuries if they're not doing what they're meant to.

I'm a bit worried their analysis will ultimately reveal I suck at the sport and that my run can be likened to that of a crazed chicken with its wings flapping about just before its head gets the axe.

But I must have actually listened to Gaz a bit already. He's been in my ear about running with better posture, because Aaron and Vaughan reckon I'm doing okay for a rookie runner.

But I'm given homework to improve my technique in relation to my hips, gait and glutes, and I'm told to use my entire foot to propel myself forward with each stride. Apparently I don't fully use my big toes. Who would have thought those "little piggies that went to market" actually finish each stride and give you the last inch of push-off - I can go faster if I use them. And here was I thinking they were just useful for displaying crazy shades of nail polish.

Anyhow, I learn a lot at the lab (my report including diagrams was 10 pages). But I won't bore you with details such as my most efficient biomechanical running speed; how my left and right legs look different in motion; or how exactly I can activate my glutes "more efficiently". I'll just tell you it's nice to know how to improve as a road runner. Now I just need to be a geek and do my homework.

How much? This varies depending on the service. A standard assessment of injuries starts from $55 and takes 60 minutes and a thorough biomechanical assessment with a detailed report is $200 on ACC or $280 privately.

Worth it? If you avoid getting an injury, then your partner/friends/workmates will avoid having to hear you harp on about "woe is me".

Try it: Sportslab, 19 Auburn St, Grafton, Auckland, ph (09) 368 1552, sportslab.net.nz

Rating: 9.5/10

- Herald on Sunday

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