Running Cadence: Research & Metronomes
One of the most common running technique dysfunctions we see in triathletes and runners across all levels is the tendency to overstride, creating excessive braking force when their foot strikes the ground too far ahead of their centre of mass.
While this is a widespread problem, it’s also easily addressed: increasing your stride frequency (cadence) for a given pace will result in a foot strike closer to under your hips and therefore centre of mass. Thus reducing impact and braking forces with each stride.
For many, this in itself may not be groundbreaking news… However, often we get asked by athletes to put a figure on what rate of running cadence they specifically should be looking to achieve to stop themselves from overstriding.
A sometimes misleading goal cadence often cited is 180 strides per minute (spm) as described by Coach Jack Daniels. He noted that elite runners tend to run with a cadence in the range of 180-200spm. Subsequently 180spm has become somewhat of a “magic number” for runners to try to work their cadence up towards.
However, this advice doesn’t take into account two specific factors:
- The wide variation between individual athletes. Specifically with regard to the initial rate of their running cadence before any changes are made.
- Cadence across differing running speeds. We’re not all elite runners! Optimal cadence rates vary between individuals and even within an individual athlete for differing running paces.
Research published in 2011 by Heiderscheit et al. indicates that running at a 5-10% higher rate of cadence (than your norm for a given pace) results in a reduction of impact and therefore loading on the knee and hip joints, a decrease the amount of vertical displacement of the centre of mass (bounce), a shortening in stride length, and created less braking force at contact with the ground.
All of these reported responses to an increase in cadence are positive and desirable in terms of creating a more efficient running form. Coincidentally, if you take a runner who currently runs at 164spm (which is very common) and increase his cadence by 10%, his cadence will fall within Daniels’ 180-200spm range.
The important point is how you achieve the increase, and how far do you push your cadence upwards. Just as with anything running related, you don’t want to make too big a change too quickly.
Our Coaching Recommendations
As part of our popular Online Running Technique Course, we usually recommend that if you feel you are overstriding, you first measure your current cadence rate, then train your body to increase this rate by 5% initially. This could be simply increasing your rate from 156spm to 164spm, which is much more achievable and sustainable than jumping straight to 180spm.
Once comfortable with the new cadence, you can then increase your cadence incrementally further until you’re no longer overstriding. Heiderscheit et al. (2011) have now given us the research to back up what we have been saying, in as much as that 180spm is an ok figure to work towards… but more importantly just increase your cadence 5-10% by bit for a given speed, knowing that any slight increase will be beneficial due to the reduction in overstriding!
Measure Your Cadence
There are two easy methods for measuring your cadence. Firstly using a Garmin FootPod or similar, secondly physically counting footfalls over a given time. I usually suggest counting one leg for 30 seconds and multiplying by 4.
Running With a Metronome
One great way to train your body to increase your cadence is to practice running using a small digital metronome, set to a specific rhythm (desired cadence). Try for short bursts initially to match your running stride frequency to the beeping without speeding up your running pace. Initially this will feel strange, even a little forced, but you will get used to the increased rhythm.
The goal shouldn’t just be to continue to increase your cadence rate, but more so to elevate it to a comfortable but more active rate (for a desired pace), then use a metronome to work on sustaining this rate of cadence across the duration of your long runs (or other sessions) as you fatigue. The tendency will be for cadence to drop as you fatigue.
Unnaturally forcing an uncomfortably high cadence too soon can result in it’s own technique issues. This is the main reason for suggesting that you don’t jump straight to 180spm, rather you increase by 5%, then 5% again once comfortable… and so on…!
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