Running Cadence - It's Not About Fast, It's About Efficiency!

 When talking about the idea of increasing run cadence to my customers after performing a gait analysis, some would reply that if they could run faster they would have a higher cadence. This is a big misunderstanding about cadence and how to achieve the ideal stride length or leg turnover per minute.

The example above outlines the very idea that running faster equals a higher cadence is simply not true, this is not to say it cannot happen, buts it's not the rule and it is certainly not the requirement.

I searched this data from Garmin reports and found the perfect comparison as the mileage and time completion are fairly similar.

The top left hand box shows my run pace at 8:33 per mile with a run cadence of 180 steps per minute, shown in the top right hand box. The bottom left hand box illustrates a slower pace for this run at an 8:56 Minute Mile with the right hand box revealing a higher cadence than the faster run at 185 steps per minute.

Take note of the Average Stride Length for each run as well.

So now that we know that "speed" doesn't necessarily equate to a higher cadence... what IS cadence and how does it affect your running?

Cadence, leg turnover or stride rate, is the number of times your foot strikes the ground in a given time period, usually measured per minute. Having a the right cadence will improve your running performance and reduce your injury risk, as cadence has a big impact on your running economy.
something I learned the hard way and was able to fix after reading Scott Jurek's book "Eat & Run".

The Ideal cadence
You may have heard that magic number for cadence is 180–or but ultimately your height, weight, leg and stride length, running ability and pace will determine your personal optimal cadence. But.. and it is a big but... if you can reach the 180 mark.. you WILL see a big difference and an increase in your running ability.

At race pace recreational runners generally fall between 160-170 steps per minute, while elite runners strike the ground around 180 steps per minute or higher—with some getting above 200!

The Importance of Cadence

Runners who have a low cadence tend to have a long stride or ‘overstride’ which is inefficient and can increase your risk of injury. Overstriding is when your foot lands excessively in front of your body, producing negative forces that impede your running. Runners who overstride generally have an inefficient running gait because they have a long contact time with the ground per step which essentially causes "breaking" as the heal hits the ground, jarring the knee joints before rolling over to the midfoot.

Because forward movement only happens when your feet strike the ground, it benefits you to get them on the ground as quickly as possible, but also to get them off again so you minimize any ‘breaking’ forces. Learning to midfoot strike or forefoot strike would be the best solution.

Determine your cadence

To establish your baseline cadence count the number of times each foot strikes the ground in 1 minute. To make it simpler, pick either your right or left foot and count the number of times it strikes the ground and multiply by two. This is your training cadence. Note that most newer GPS watches will count your cadence for you as displayed on the photo above from data taken by my Garmin Fenix 5.

It’s important to determine your cadence for all your training speeds, so find your baseline for your steady, long, tempo, hill and speed sessions.

How to increase your cadence
Learning to increase your cadence can help you become a more efficient runner but it’s important to make small changes over time to minimise injury risk. Begin by shortening your stride by 5% and working up to 10% over time. Try to focus on landing midfoot under the hip or center of mass  on a bent knee and then pushing off from your big toe, repeat the gait cycle. Short, quick turnovers.

Even if you have a watch that counts for you you, counting your cadence for a minute or two during your run is a really good habit to get into, and it’s a tool you can use on race day when you need to pick up the pace or need a little distraction.


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