A complete gait cycle occurs when one foot makes contact on the ground and the same foot makes contact on the ground again. After your foot has made initial contact, the stance phase comes next. During stance phase, both knees are at their peak flexion. One foot is in the air at peak knee bend through swing phase causing the leg on the ground to absorb all your body weight. Your leg on the ground is at peak energy absorption/recoil. In this post, we will focus on the leg that is on the ground.
When looking at a runner’s gait, the stance phase occurs when the hip, knee and ankle joints are in more flexion compared to heel strike. The knee flexion angle allows for optimal energy absorption through the lower extremity as your body is moving forward. The knee flexion angle for the stance leg is around 30 degrees and your hip should be in neutral compared to the lower leg at this phase of running. Having adequate hip strength during this running stage is crucial. If you do not have proper glut strength to stabilize the hip joint during stance phase, this could potentially lead to injury.
How To Improve Your Stance Phase:
Breaking down this phase of running can be as simple as looking at the ability to stand on one leg. Being able to maintain equal hip/pelvic alignment and balance while standing on one leg will show how stable your stance leg is. If you find yourself having to use your arms for balance, or your trunk sways excessively from side to side, your hip is not working to properly stabilize your body. If you think of what else is happening during stance phase, your opposite leg is moving in space during swing phase. This contralateral movement, or opposite sides of the body working together, of the legs in inverse directions also requires significant hip and core strength.
In addition to highlighting hip strength, stance phase can also show if certain muscle groups do not have adequate length/stretch. For example, if the calf muscle is tight, stance phase would be much shorter because it would limit the flexion angle at the ankle; limited dorsiflexion at the ankle forces you to compensate at other joints and can lead to injury.
If we look at the knee going through swing phase, if there is quad muscle tightness, this will limit full knee flexion. If the hip is unable to get past neutral, or even worse, stays in a flexed position throughout the running cycle, this could lead to low back pain, hip pain, and again other compensation patterns leading to injury. Treadmill video analysis of your running gait can further reveal what other muscle groups might need strengthening or stretching.
Below are just a few examples of strengthening exercises for the hips and single leg balance. Please note that seeking tailored exercises from a physical therapist for specific muscle group strengthening is highly recommended.
1. Step Up With Run Snap:
2. 12, 3, 6 O’clock Toe Taps:
3. Single Leg Hip Hinge With Run Snap: