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Ground Contact Time For Runners Explained + 3 Tips To Improve Yours

Optimizing Ground Contact Time for Overall Performance.

Your ground contact time (GCT) running is a metric that measures the length of time of the “stance phase“ of the gait cycle, which is the weight-bearing portion of the running stride.

Simply put, it’s the duration your foot spends touching the ground during each stride. This seemingly small metric holds immense importance, influencing your speed, efficiency, and even susceptibility to injuries.

Whether you’re a seasoned runner or just starting out, understanding and optimizing your GCT can significantly impact your performance. By working on reducing your GCT, you can run smoother, faster, and with fewer injuries.

Let’s delve into the world of ground contact time, exploring its significance and providing practical tips to help you improve it and enhance your running performance.

A close-up of a runner's sneakers while running.

What Is Ground Contact Time Running?

A runner’s ground contact time, or GCT for short, refers to the length of time that your foot is in contact with the ground during your running stride.

From the point at which your foot first makes contact with the ground1Hamill, J., & Gruber, A. H. (2017). Is changing footstrike pattern beneficial to runners? Journal of Sport and Health Science6(2), 146–153. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jshs.2017.02.004, which is called either initial contact or ground contact when referring to the running gait cycle, until the same foot is up into the air after push-off constitutes the foot’s total ground contact time.

If you land on your heel or rear foot, the stance phase involves the entire rollover along the foot. Your weight travels from your heel towards your toe for a push-off, a process known as the heel-to-toe transition.

How do you calculate ground contact time?

Ground contact time running is measured in milliseconds (ms). 

There is 1000 ms in one second, so a GCT running of 500 milliseconds means that your foot is in contact with the ground for half a second from the time you land on your foot at initial contact (or heel strike) until you push off at toe-off.

A close-up of a runner's sneakers while running on a trail.

What Is Ground Contact Time Balance?

Ground contact time balance, or GCT balance, while running, further picks apart your ground contact time by comparing the ground contact time between your right foot vs. your left foot when you run.

Essentially, a runner’s GCT balance is a measure of the symmetry between the right and left sides of the body when the foot is in contact with the ground.

Running is a unilateral but reciprocal motion which means that the right and left sides of the body are performing the exact same movement pattern but in opposition to one another.

The reason that GCT balance is so important for a runner is that symmetry in your running stride helps improve your efficiency and running economy, and it reduces the risk of injuries. 

A close-up of a runner's sneakers while running on a fall day.

Any deviations in the movement arc or in metrics, such as the ground contact time in the right foot vs. left foot when running, introduce a higher risk for injuries and compromised performance.2Joubert, D. P., Guerra, N. A., Jones, E. J., Knowles, E. G., & Piper, A. D. (2020). Ground Contact Time Imbalances Strongly Related to Impaired Running Economy. International Journal of Exercise Science13(4), 427–437. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7241633/

This is because if you do not display GCT balance running, it means that one side of your body will be doing more work or contending with higher forces or forces for a longer period of time than the other side of your body.

What is a good ground contact time balance?

Ultimately, a 50/50 ground contact time balance is ideal, though a 51/49 GCT balance is also okay. Anything more than a 2% differential between your right and left foot indicates poor GCT balance running.

A person running on a trail.

What Is A Good Ground Contact Time Running?

As with most running metrics related to the dynamics of your running stride, such as stride length and cadence, there isn’t a universal best ground contact time running.

Ultimately, the shorter your GCT running, the faster you will be running, which tends to be ideal.

However, as discussed, the GCT balance is equally important, if not more important, than just your average ground contact time running.

Consider, for example, two different recreational runners.

Imagine that both runners run 5 miles and they are wearing Garmin running watches that can measure ground contact time running.

Let’s say that runner A has an average ground contact time running of 300 milliseconds. Meanwhile, runner B has an average of 250 milliseconds.

If the analysis ends there, it would be easy to assume that runner B has the better amount of time.

A close-up of a runner's sneakers while running on a track.

After all, in theory, the shorter the length of time that your foot is stuck on the ground supporting your weight, the greater your potential to be running faster and actually making forward motion.

However, the average GCT running isn’t so black and white. This is again where the GCT balance comes into play.

When we are looking at the average ground contact time running between these two runners, we are looking at the average across both feet for the entire 5-mile run.

But, if we were able to do a deeper analysis and look at the right foot vs. left foot ground contact time when running, we might discover another layer that would change the answer as to the best GCT.

If runner A has an average GCT running of 300 ms and is indeed demonstrating excellent ground contact time balance while running.

This means that both the right foot and left foot would have approximately a 300 ms GCT independently if we analyzed each foot individually across the 5-mile run.

Let’s say that runner B has a very poor running GCT balance. This means that he or she is displaying an overt lack of symmetry between the right and left sides of the body in terms of ground contact time.

This can be evidenced by an imbalance or lopsided running stride, even if it is not apparent to the naked eye.

If the runner were to do a video gait analysis that slows down the running form frame by frame, we would be able to see that the right foot might be spending significantly more time on the ground than the left foot for each complete gait cycle.

A person running along a beach.

Thus, while the overall average GCT running for this runner might be 250 ms, the individual GCT for the right foot vs. the left foot could be quite disparate.

Just to simplify the math, the GCT on the right foot might be 350 ms, and the GCT of the left foot might be just 150 ms.

This will still average out to a faster average, but the GCT balance would be very poor, with the left foot GCT 200 ms faster than the right foot GCT running.

Ultimately, in this particular comparison, even though the average ground contact time is objectively faster for runner B, the GCT of runner A is actually probably healthier and more efficient given the significantly better GCT balance.

Although there aren’t massive studies or research reviews that have looked at the typical ground contact time running for runners of all ability levels, generally speaking, a good GCT for recreational runners is between 200 and 300 milliseconds.

Elite distance runners demonstrate a faster GCT than recreational runners, often even faster than 200 ms.

Sprinters may have the best GCT running because the entire race performance hinges upon maximizing forward velocity.

A person running on a track.

Should I reduce My Ground Contact Time?

Reducing your ground contact time (GCT) can be beneficial for various reasons, especially if you’re aiming to enhance your running performance and efficiency.

Here’s why:

#1: Improved Running Efficiency

Shortening your GCT means spending less time with each foot on the ground during a stride. This can lead to smoother running dynamics and a more efficient use of energy, ultimately improving your overall running efficiency.

With less time spent on the ground, you can maintain a faster pace with less effort, potentially leading to better race times, especially in endurance events like ultramarathons and triathlons.

#2: Decreased Metabolic Cost

A shorter GCT is associated with lower metabolic costs during running.3CHAPMAN, R. F., LAYMON, A. S., WILHITE, D. P., MCKENZIE, J. M., TANNER, D. A., & STAGER, J. M. (2012). Ground Contact Time as an Indicator of Metabolic Cost in Elite Distance Runners. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise44(5), 917–925. https://doi.org/10.1249/mss.0b013e3182400520

‌By spending less time on the ground, your muscles need to work less to propel you forward, resulting in reduced energy expenditure and lower heart rates for the same running speed.

This can translate to improved endurance and the ability to sustain higher speeds over longer distances, which is particularly advantageous for triathletes needing to conserve energy for multiple disciplines.

#3: Reduced Risk Of Injury

Optimal GCT is often linked to better running techniques and biomechanics.4Adams, D., Pozzi, F., Willy, R. W., Carrol, A., & Zeni, J. (2018). ALTERING CADENCE OR VERTICAL OSCILLATION DURING RUNNING: EFFECTS ON RUNNING RELATED INJURY FACTORS. International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy13(4), 633–642. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6088121/

By focusing on reducing overstriding by increasing cadence and improving foot strike patterns, such as landing on the forefoot rather than the heel, you can minimize ground reaction forces and leg stiffness, which are common contributors to running-related injuries.

Incorporating drills and using tools like footpods or devices such as the Garmin Forerunner to monitor GCT can help you fine-tune your running technique and mitigate the risk of overuse injuries.5Heiderscheit, B. C., Chumanov, E. S., Michalski, M. P., Wille, C. M., & Ryan, M. B. (2011). Effects of step rate manipulation on joint mechanics during running. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise43(2), 296–302. https://doi.org/10.1249/MSS.0b013e3181ebedf4

How Do I Reduce Ground Contact Time When Running?

There are various strategies that can help improve your ground contact time running.

#1: Wearable Device

A recent study6Giraldo-Pedroza, A., Lee, W. C.-C., Lam, W.-K., Coman, R., & Alici, G. (2020). Effects of Wearable Devices with Biofeedback on Biomechanical Performance of Running—A Systematic Review. Sensors20(22), 6637. https://doi.org/10.3390/s20226637,found that even using a running watch or wearable device that provides biofeedback on running biomechanics can help decrease GCT in runners.

The results found that when runners were able to get immediate feedback on the wearable device, they were able to reduce their vertical oscillation (bouncing or up and down movement) along with other biomechanical factors of the running stride.

Some of the best GPS running watches with high-tech capabilities are now able to provide not only basic GCT running averages but also your GCT balance while running.

Getting real-time feedback may help bring awareness to the symmetry in your running stride as well as your “quickness“ on your feet, which can improve GCT balance and average ground contact time, respectively.

#2: Running Drills

Running drills like explosive plyometric strides and fast feet drills, such as the ones that American football players use, or envisioning running on hot coals can help cue your brain to be as light and quick on your feet as possible.

#3: Increasing Cadence

Lastly, working with a metronome app or trying to deliberately increase your running cadence can potentially help reduce running ground contact time.

A higher cadence will often include shorter stride lengths, reducing overstriding, facilitating faster transitions between foot strikes and push-offs, and improving overall running economy.

By taking shorter strides and maintaining a higher cadence, runners can spend less time with each foot on the ground during each stride.

For more information on running cadence, check out our guide here!

References

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Amber Sayer is a Fitness, Nutrition, and Wellness Writer and Editor, as well as a NASM-Certified Nutrition Coach and UESCA-certified running, endurance nutrition, and triathlon coach. She holds two Masters Degrees—one in Exercise Science and one in Prosthetics and Orthotics. As a Certified Personal Trainer and running coach for 12 years, Amber enjoys staying active and helping others do so as well. In her free time, she likes running, cycling, cooking, and tackling any type of puzzle.

2 thoughts on “Ground Contact Time For Runners Explained + 3 Tips To Improve Yours”

  1. Amber, Solid article on a important topic. Curious what your thoughts are on balance training in different planes statically on a Slack Line and or single leg stances on balance objects in decreasing GCT and improving symmetry? It seems to me that that is key and overlooked in this post and many others on this topic. Thank you!

    Reply
  2. Hi AMBER 🙂
    I run for more than 10 years and I also did a full Marathon and uncounted races down than that. 2 months ago I decided to use Garmin coach to get a specific result that I want to gain. so I started to look at the categories such as GCT or cadence and your articles gave me a lot of INFO that I never had before! now I now how i start to be better runner.
    thanks a lot!

    Reply

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