YES! Make running easier by increasing your cadence!
Being aware of your cadence is very important when it comes to improving your efficiency of running, running faster, and staying injury free when you run. Cadence is simply the number of steps you take in a minute. You will most likely see it written as Steps Per Minute (SPM). You can find this number on many running watches, fitness trackers, or smart watches. You can also measure this on your own by watching yourself run on video. In practice, I find many runners who have never been coached on their running mechanics, naturally fall between 160-170 spm.
Why should I care about my cadence?
Measuring cadence is a simple way to improve your running mechanics, make yourself a more efficient runner, make running easier, and to decrease the chance of a future injury. Now in theory (and practice) improving cadence alone will not always make you run more efficiently. There are other factors you need to consider when improving your running economy. That being said, In practice it does tend to naturally help clean up someones running mechanics.
The Mechanical Faults Improving your Cadence tends to Help
Many runners will over-stride, heel strike, and run with a narrow base of support. The over-stride often leads to a heel strike and a narrow base of support. These faults ultimately slow you down and make you more prone to injury (knee, foot, hip). By increasing cadence at the same running pace, you are going to naturally take a shorter stride, which tends to lessen an athletes heel strike while improving their base of support. The shorter stride will lessen the "braking" forces on the body (the forces which slow you down). The lessened heel strike has been shown to decrease forces on the knee, and the wider base of support will improve the runners stability during the stance phase of running. You will also spend less time in stance. Less time in stance means less stress on the body. All things which will make running easier for you, and work to keep you healthy during training.
Won't a faster cadence just mean that I run faster?
No! You can run in place, at a very fast cadence, and go no-where. How fast you move is ultimately determined by your fall angle, that topic will be for another post though.
Won't I fatigue faster?
No! Research shows that running at the same speed and increasing cadence by about 5-10% does not increase oxygen consumption during exercise. This means that increasing your cadence will not tax your cardiovascular system more than you already feel now. In addition to the reasons mentioned above, increasing your cadence to 180+ SPM will actually allow you to maximize the use of elastic energy within your muscles and tendons. This utilization of elastic energy helps you decrease your oxygen consumption during running (making running easier). When working to improve your cadence, you will feel like you are working a little harder and it will feel unnatural at first. This is because its different than the way you've been running for the previous _____ years! With training your new cadence will eventually feel naturally and it will begin to feel "automatic",
What should my cadence be?
In practice I tend to find most runners natural cadence to be somewhere between 160-170 SPM. To maximize our use of elastic energy, we want to carry a cadence over 180 SPM. This cadence is independent of how fast you're running. Running a 10 minute mile...180+ SPM. Running a 5:30 mile...180+ SPM.
Ok, I want to improve my cadence. How do I do it?!
The first step to improving your cadence is to make yourself aware of what your cadence is currently. You can find this out through a professional running analysis, your wrist-watch, or by watching yourself run on camera and counting steps. You can also just jump straight to running at a target cadence. This may make your adjustment to the faster cadence a little more challenging though. Keep reading for why. If you are over 180 spm, awesome! Keep your cadence as is and work on improving other areas of your running mechanics. If it is not above 180 spm, then it's time to start increasing your cadence. Do this by taking your current cadence and increasing it by 5-10%. If you are still below 180 spm, run at this increased cadence for about 2 weeks then increase again by 5-10%. Do this until you are carrying a cadence over 180 spm. Gradually increasing your cadence over time will help decrease the feeling of "working harder" and enable you to make a smooth adjustment to your new cadence. Making drastic jumps in your cadence will most likely make you feel "gassed" and will make you feel like you're working significantly harder than before. Making the adjustment to your faster cadence will most likely take about a month of consistent training.
The number one training tool you can use to effectively increase your cadence is metronome! Set the metronome to your target cadence and synchronize your steps with the beep. I recommend focusing on pulling your foot off the ground with the beep, instead of placing your foot on the ground with every beep. This will help you avoid "actively placing" your foot on the ground, decrease how loudly your foot hits the ground, and will help you feel lighter as you run.
The metronome I recommend is here. Its free and it will play behind the music on your smart phone.
If you are experience chronic pain when running, its most likely because of your running mechanics! Find a clinician who understands running mechanics, the rehab process, and understands your goals to help you get back to the activities and sports you love. They will guide you along your journey, let you know what's normal and what's not normal, and they will get you back to the things you love in the quickest most efficient manner possible!
Interested in improving your running mechanics? Watch the video below!
Here at Ground to Overhead Physical Therapy, we help athletes all over the country run faster and resolve their chronic pain. We do this with in person appointments for athletes local in our clinic with 3-D video running analysis. Remotely, we help athlete through running analysis and individualized training programs designed to resolve the athletes pain and achieve their goals. We coach the athletes through electronic communication, video analysis, and video calls; guiding them step by step along the process of running better and eliminating their chronic pain.
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