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What role does the Gait Cycle play in Pilates?

Gait analysis is the study of human locomotion. In order to analyse and quantify how someone walks, it is necessary to isolate the shortest, unique and repeatable movement during gait. This is called the gait cycle. The gait cycle describes the cyclic pattern of movement that occurs while walking. A single gait cycle starts when the heel of one foot hits the ground and ends when that same heel strikes the ground again.

Walking requires the healthy functioning of several body systems including the musculoskeletal, nervous, cardiovascular and respiratory systems. These systems provide balance, mobility and stability as well as higher cognitive function and executive control. A loss of healthy gait function can lead to falls, injuries, loss of movement and personal freedom.

The gait cycle can be broken down into two primary phases, the stance and swing phases, which alternate for each lower limb.

  • Stance phase: Consists of the entire time a foot is on the ground.

  • Swing phase: Consists of the entire time that the foot is in the air.

The swing phase can be broken down into 4 sub-phases.

  1. Pre-swing takes place during half of the gait cycle. It is the transition phase between stance and swing, in which the foot is pushed and lifted off of the ground.

  2. During the initial swing, the hip, knee, and ankle are flexed to begin the advancement of the leg forward and to lift the foot over the ground.

  3. During mid-swing, limb advancement continues and the thigh reaches its highest point.

  4. Terminal swing is the final phase of the gait cycle. It takes place as the foot is positioned for initial foot contact to start the next gait cycle.

The combination of the stance and swing movement makes what we call a stride, which is the gait cycle.

It is common to observe imbalances in the way that people move due to compensations, poor posture, habitual movement patterns, injuries, leg discrepancies etc. Pilates works on imbalances, stretching and strengthening the muscles which support functional gait movement. Common gait deviations include increased pronation, increased supination and transverse motion of the pelvis.

Increased pronation:

  • Lack of ankle dorsiflexion

  • Tight calves

  • Weak posterior tibialis and or peroneus longus (form a sling-like motion supporting the arch of the foot)

  • Weak hip abductors and or hip external rotators (causing the ankle to roll in).

Increased Supination:

  • Usually a high arch (or someone who has had many ankle sprains)

  • Weak peroneal muscles

  • Tight hip external rotators

Transverse Motion of the Pelvis:

  • Usually weak stabilisers especially in the core

  • Can be a lack of subtalar joint motion

All of the above deviations can be both structural or functional factors which cause biomechanical imbalances. If the muscles are weak or too tight, the muscles cannot function optimally. Pilates challenges muscles both concentrically and eccentrically which makes it ideal for functional re-training. The whole body is addressed and good hip, knee, and foot alignment are always encouraged. For a better moving body, join us for Pilates.



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