Why Your Running Cadence Still Matters

by Abbie Mood
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Why Your Running Cadence Still Matters

A topic always on a runner’s mind is how to reduce the risk of injury. One way is by watching your cadence (i.e., the number of steps you take per minute). While a recent study showed that your natural stride rate is actually the most efficient because your body knows how it works best, that doesn’t mean your cadence won’t improve over time.

THE BENEFITS OF HIGHER CADENCE

Most professional runners have a cadence between 180–200. If you watch a pro race closely, you can see their turnover is quick. Jack Daniels, author of “Daniels’ Running Formula” extensively studied stride rate in the 1984 Olympics and found the average number of steps per minute for the track athletes was 180. At the time, Daniels was a college gym teacher and he observed that, on the other hand, his students’ cadence was slower, between 150–170.

Studies have backed up the notion a higher cadence means fewer injuries due to less impact. A study completed in 2011, for example, showed a small increase of just 5–10% in cadence rate can “substantially reduce the loading to the hip and knee joints during running and may prove beneficial in the prevention and treatment of common running-related injuries.” This is important because, according to the same study, 56% of recreational runners are injured every year, and 50% of those injuries include the patellofemoral joint in the knee.


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According to Heather North, physical therapist and owner of Red Hammer Rehab in Louisville, Colorado, a big key to staying injury-free is your running cadence. North sees a lot of knee injuries. “Mostly because there are so many different injuries that can occur at that joint,” she explains. “It also is very susceptible to poor running technique, bad biomechanics and weakness in the major stabilizers [gluteal muscles].” As North said, a quicker cadence reduces the impact of each foot strike, which, in turn, reduces the load the joint has to deal with. “Not only does it make you a more efficient runner, but it also decreases the amount of impact during each foot strike you make. This translates directly to less injuries and speedier running!

HOW TO INCREASE CADENCE

First, it doesn’t mean you have to run faster, per se, but by running more efficiently you will, in turn, run faster. When you first increase your turnover rate, it’s important to avoid maintaining the same stride length or you’ll feel like you’re sprinting. You also want to avoid shortening your stride too much because you’ll end up moving very quickly but not going far.

Start by figuring out your current cadence. An easy way to do this is by counting the number of steps you take with one of your legs for a minute. Multiply that by 2 and you’ve got your cadence. You can also count the footsteps on one side for 30 seconds, multiply by 2 to get the full minute for that leg, then multiply it by 2 again to get the total for both legs.

Once you figure that out, start by increasing your turnover gradually by 5–10%. It’s also important to note that while 180 is hailed as the magic number, somewhere around 180 is fine, too. Some professional athletes are in the high 170s, while others are even over 200 (but let’s not get too wild here). Doing a couple of “cadence training runs” a week can help get you used to running at your goal number of steps per minute.

If you’re having trouble getting a fast enough turnover, hit the hills. Take smaller steps going uphill and then work on a quick turnover (instead of long strides) on the downhill. Let gravity help you out a little bit. Programs like Spotify Running or apps like JogTunes play songs to match a set cadence and help keep you moving at the right pace.

Whether you’re a newbie or a seasoned pro and have never considered your cadence, now is as good a time as any to think about it, especially if you deal with knee injuries!


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Related

  • The most important consideration with this study is that OF COURSE when you increase or decrease the cadence of a person by 8% (not a small amount) they’re going to be less economic compared to what they habitually do. But if they have a habitual very low cadence and they take 4 weeks to increase it slightly, chances are there will be an improvement.