Is Your Running Cadence Holding You Back?
If you are a client of ours or have attended one of our running workshops, you have heard us talk about the importance of running cadence. When we say, “running cadence,” people often think that means running speed. Running cadence is the number of steps a runner takes in a minute of running; it is not one’s speed. Although there is a correlation that increased cadence will increase your speed, that is not always true. We know that for a recreational runner, achieving 160 steps per minute or higher is ideal. However, that “ideal” cadence can be completed at both a 10-minute mile or an 8-minute mile. Simply put, the shorter your stride length and the quicker your cadence, the faster and better you will run. If your running is efficient, then quick cadence should be natural. Elite runners typically run at a cadence of 180 steps per minute and can even hit over 200 steps per minute…now that’s efficient, fast running!
Why is efficient cadence important anyway?
As mentioned previously, cadence (also known as stride rate), is the number of steps a runner takes per minute, or SPM. It’s the most common metric used to measure running form and remains important for several reasons. Those with a low cadence will most likely have a longer stride. When a runner over strides, they tend to overload their knees and drive their heels into the ground with every step. Ultimately, this slows them down, creates a bouncy gait loading muscles and bones, thus making them more susceptible to injury.
When you increase your cadence, the result is more than simply moving your feet faster. It changes the position of where your foot lands. Rather than overstriding where your foot lands in front of your hips, the higher cadence allows your foot to land underneath you—in your center of gravity. As a result, your body naturally decreases your step length and increases your turnover. This means you are wasting less energy moving up and down. Your body can now focus on moving forward at a faster pace.
With an increased cadence, you also provide less room for injuring yourself. Because you are now moving forward in space, you are limiting the amount of force with which your body hits the ground. A slower cadence produces more vertical displacement, so your body strikes the ground much harder than if you had a high cadence. In summary, the more steps you take per minute, the less time you spend in the air, causing a softer impact on landing and a more efficient running gait.
Now, how do you find your running cadence?
We know that there is no one-size-fits-all formula to determine a person’s cadence. There are many factors including height, weight, running ability, and running distance. The simplest way is to count your steps as you run. Find a flat running surface and count the number of times your right foot hits the ground for 30 seconds and multiply by 4 to account for both feet over a minute’s time. It’s best to repeat this a few times and average them out.
Once you’ve found your baseline running cadence, how do you work on increasing your steps per minute?
Our rule of thumb is to set a goal for 3-5% of your baseline number to start. For example, if your running cadence is 150 SPM then your goal cadence should be between 154-158 SPM. The most important part is the implementation of your new goal cadence. As with anything new, you must increase slowly to avoid injury. We suggest that when you start, initiate the new cadence for one minute followed by 3 minutes at your normal base cadence. Or you can go off of distance, run every third of a mile at your faster cadence.
As you gradually increase your cadence, try some of these tips to stick with it:
1. Run to a Beat
We recommend downloading a metronome app. There’s plenty of free ones out there. Set the metronome to your goal cadence (beats/minute) and try to match your steps to the beat. You can also use any music app and find songs that have a similar beat to your goal cadence. Again, make the beat of the song match your steps.
2. Baby Steps
Increasing your cadence means decreasing your step length. Think about taking baby steps, not on running faster. Also, try to be light on your feet. You should not hear a lot of sound as your foot strikes the ground. Simply doing this will decrease your step length.
Try running downhill because the gravity assistance of the hill will provide faster turnover. Add downhill sprint workouts into your weekly routine.
Focusing on increasing your running cadence is beneficial for runners of all abilities. It’s the first step in becoming a faster and less injury-prone runner. If you’ve been struggling with injuries related to running, let us help you find your ideal cadence and create a plan to help you achieve your best performance. All the physical therapists at Functionize are trained in helping to improve your running form and efficiency. Schedule an appointment for a running assessment today by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org or 404.907.4196.
Thanks for reading,
Lauren Sok, Founder of Functionize Health & Physical Therapy, brings 18 years of physical therapy practice and expertise in treating orthopedic and sports medicine related injuries. She incorporates a functional medicine approach in treating the whole person to find the root cause of a problem, rather than treating one body part at a time. Lauren holds a Master of Physical Therapy and Bachelor of Science in Health Science from the University of the Sciences in Philadelphia. She is a Certified Stott Pilates Instructor, a Clinical Instructor at the Doctorate of Physical Therapy Program, Emory University, and is trained in Redcord Neurac and Trigger Point Dry Needling. Lauren’s email is email@example.com. More information can be found at www.functionizehealth.com.