Whether it’s pace per mile, V02 max or staying in the correct heart rate zone, there are a lot of metrics runners track during a run. But one important metric that’s often overlooked is cadence, and optimizing this can have a bigger impact on your overall performance than you might think.
From developing a more efficient stride to staying-injury free, here’s how working on your cadence can make you a better runner.
WHY IS CADENCE IMPORTANT?
Your running cadence is the number of steps you take each minute. Counting this number while you run is possible, but since it can vary throughout a workout depending on your pace, it’s probably not a reasonable option to count throughout an entire run. The MapMyRun app can record this metric for you so you can keep track of your current step count during your workout without much effort.
While there are studies that show most elite runners take 180 steps per minute, this number is highly individual and can depend on the speed you run. Slow joggers naturally have a slower cadence than an Olympic miler running at a much faster pace. However, if your cadence is naturally on the slow side (say 140 steps per minute for a 5K) and you are a classic over strider, shortening your stride and taking more steps can pay huge dividends.
In general, most heel strikers tend to over-stride. This means the foot strikes the ground in front of the body away from your center of mass, slowing forward momentum. A natural way to change your stride is to focus on taking more steps, or speeding up your cadence. When running the same speed, you’ll be forced to take shorter steps to make your turnover quicker, and your foot will land below your hips instead of out in front of your body. This makes for a more efficient stride that propels your body weight forward as opposed to slowing your momentum by striking with the heel.
Learning to strike the ground with your foot underneath your body with a faster cadence and a smoother stride can also help you prevent injury. Long, slow strides can cause your leg to impact the ground at an angle out in front of the body, increasing the impact forces on the knee and hip. By reducing the angle of the leg as the foot strikes the ground, you will be less likely to get common overuse injuries such as patellofemoral pain syndrome (PFPS) and iliotibial band syndrome (ITBS) among others.
IF YOU WANT TO INCREASE YOUR CADENCE
Try to increase your current cadence by 5%. Record your baseline cadence numbers for your average pace for a slow jog, 5K race pace, 10K race pace and so on. Add 5% to each of these numbers to determine your new goal cadence for each pace. For example, if your 5K cadence is 165, your new goal cadence would be about 173.
Increasing this number takes time and should happen gradually over several weeks or months. To begin practicing speeding up your run cadence, here are a few tips you can use:
- To start, focus on your cadence only for short periods during your workout. It can be for a few minutes during your warmup or for the first 30 seconds of every mile. After that, run at your natural cadence and look at your overall cadence numbers post-workout.
- Play hot foot. As soon as your foot hits the ground, focus on picking it up as quickly as possible. This helps your strides stay short and quick.
- Pay attention to where your foot lands. If it’s out in front of your body, focus on striking the ground more with your midfoot so it lands under your hips instead of out in front.
- Practice running gradual downhills. Since downhills help you pick up speed, practice getting your cadence quicker with some short accelerations. Try not to stop your forward momentum and instead use the downhills to speed up your stride.
- After several weeks, try to extend the amount of time you run at your goal cadence during your workouts. Repeat every few weeks until you are able to run the entire workout at your goal cadence. Once this occurs, you can set a new cadence goal by adding another 5%, if desired.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Since each individual runner is different, instead of focusing on one number, such as 180 steps per minute, as the gold standard when it comes to cadence, it’s a better idea to get your baseline cadence and work from there. Using an app like MapMyRun, which has form-coaching features helps you develop a feel for the right cadence for your running style.