In this article, you will learn why and how improving your running cadence, or cadence will help you avoid injuries and become a better runner.
You will learn the 8 best exercises to improve your cadence and the 3 greatest benefits.
What is Running Cadence?
Cadence, or stride rate, is the number of steps per minute we take when running. And it is an essential factor in defining a runner’s technique.
Let’s start with the basics, a stride is a distance from the point of contact of one foot on the ground to the point of contact on the other foot. The cadence has a lot to do with our stride length since that length will be the distance we travel with each stride.
Therefore, the speed of a runner will be determined by the relationship between the length of the stride and the cadence.
Stride Length vs Stride Rate
What is stride Length
Basically, the width, amplitude, or length of the stride is the distance you cover with one step while running.
If you don’t have a device that measures your stride width, you can easily calculate it.
To do this, you must run on a defined circuit and a certain distance; and then calculate the number of steps (stride rate) you take to cover that distance.
Once you get both values (distance + stride rate), you must divide the distance/stride rate.
For example, if you are a runner with a stride rate of 170 steps per minute and cover a kilometer in 4 minutes, the total number of steps to run 1000 meters would be 680.
Performing the division of distance over cadence (1000/680) the result would be 1 stride width of 1.47 meters (2.94 if you consider the two steps).
How Stride Length and Stride Rate are related
If you haven’t noticed yet, the interrelation between stride width and cadence directly affects the speed at which you run
The combination of both factors contribute significantly to your speed and are modified by each runner (often unconsciously).
For example, if your stride width is 2 meters and your cadence is 160 steps per minute, this means that in one minute you can cover 320 meters.If you maintain your stride width and increase your cadence to 170, you could cover 340 meters in one minute.
Unfortunately, it is impossible to increase both values in an unlimited way, and each runner will have its stride width and cadence within certain ranges, which can be improved but to some extent.
Trying to run with a stride that is too long will not only demand a challenging conscious effort, but it can work to the detriment of your performance (when your footsteps too far in front of your body, the force generated by the surface is directed towards your body, causing deceleration).
Knowing the existence of these factors and their importance can be a useful tool to consider while running.
How To Measure Your Stride Rate
The cadence can be measured through a pedometer and even with a running watch.
If you do not use a pedometer or other device that records your steps while running, one of the ways to know what your cadence is by measuring the time it takes to take 30 steps with a particular foot and then divide it by 3600.
For example: If to reach 30 steps with your right foot, it took 22 seconds, you must perform the following division: 3600/22 = 163 steps per minute. Another way is to count the number of steps you take in 15 seconds (both feet) and multiply it by 4.
The result of this test may show that your cadence is less than 180 spm.
Here we tell you why it is important that you work to get closer to 180 steps per minute.
REMEMBER: Not everyone is equal. It may be that your optimal cadence is higher or less than 180 steps per minute. The important thing is that you run in nearby ranges.
Benefits of Improving your Running Cadence
1. Improve the Running Technique
This is the most significant advantage you will get by improving your cadence.
There are some poor practices that many runners perform, one of the most serious is overstriding, which consists in extending the stride as much as possible.
This technique is not right, and if you think you’re going to run faster and be more efficient, you’re wrong. Doing this, you land in front of your body with your leg straight and stepping with your heel.
When the strides are too long, there is a substantial impact on the ground, and both the knee and the tibia suffer more than they should.
Similarly, there is a braking effect that worsens your performance and accelerates the onset of fatigue.
If you increase your cadence, you will take shorter steps, and your feet will impact much closer to your center of gravity.
It is also the optimal way to improve your performance because you will spend less energy (running economy) and reduce the strength of the impact that the legs suffer.
2. Reduce the Risk of Injury
As you know, injuries are the worst enemy of a runner, and a proper technique is essential to minimize the chances of suffering from any of them.
When we run, we receive repetitive impacts on the body generating wear. Our musculoskeletal system can adapt to that stimulus, and that allows our bones, joints, tendons, and muscles to be able to withstand that tension.
However, when the loads are too high, the impacts are too strong, or the technique is wrong, the risk of injury is high. Stepping with your heel first and overstriding are the leading causes of injuries such as plantar fasciitis, tibial periostitis or iliotibial belt syndrome.
According to a study published by the NCBI, that evaluated the cadence of 45 runners, it was concluded that: The increase in cadence can substantially reduce the load on the knee and ankle joints during the race.
Therefore, a higher cadence can be beneficial in the prevention and treatment of common running injuries.
3. Performance Improvement
Finally, we could say that bringing your cadence as close as possible to the optimum 180 spm is synonymous of better performance. And why is it better to run with shorter strides? Because…
- Reduce the contact time with the ground
- Generate less support force with less stride length
- Reduce the intensity of vertical loads on the joints
- Run more efficiently because you lose less energy
- Delay the onset of muscle fatigue
- Avoid unnecessary oscillations of the center of gravity
- Increase cruise speed and improve your goals
- The acceleration is constant, without variations
- Hip adduction is much lower
- You reduce muscle pain and microtrauma
Progressive Plan to Increase Your Running Cadence
As we have seen, improving the cadence decreases the amplitude of the stride and increase the frequency of steps per minute. However, we cannot make this change abruptly, it must be a gradual process.
First, we must ensure that our running posture is correct. The best way to increase cadence is to improve muscle strength in the legs. Therefore, combine your runs with strength training and strengthen your bottom train to the fullest.
Then, start increasing your cadence by performing series in your workouts. Don’t even think about increasing your stroke rate. You cannot have a cadence of 155 and suddenly try to run at 180 spm. You will have to make a progressive increase.
Therefore, we propose the series, you should carry out your regular training (ex: 60 minutes) and add a short series (5 minutes) where you increase your cadence.
Try this for several weeks and gradually increase the duration of the series and cadence, but always slowly (from 155 spm to 160, from 160 spm to 165 spm, etc…)
Be sure to continue strengthening your lower train with strength training. By doing both, you will increase your cadence and improve your technique as a runner.
Tips to Change Your Cadence and Improve Your Performance
1. Patience and Security
You must have patience with cadence. When you start training it, you will feel very strange and even clumsy, because you have been running for so long with the same technique that it will be challenging to move in another way. With time and effort, you will get it.
Another important aspect is security. You should not be ashamed when it comes to running with shorter steps, or think that other runners will look at you strangely. If they are real runners, they will know that you are training your cadence.
2. Higher Cadence Does Not Mean Higher Speed
Increasing your cadence improves your performance, but that doesn’t mean you’re going to run faster. At least that should not be your main objective.
Increasing the cadence is to focus on two essential aspects: a shorter contact time of the foot on the ground and a smaller stride width. Strive to step on and exit quickly to make the next stride, as if the ground were lava.
3. Find Alternatives that Help You
When you start increasing cadence you will realize that it will not be an easy task, not only for physical effort but also for mental wear. Being aware all the time of the number of steps you take can be a bit tedious. Luckily, there are some tricks to keep the cadence more unconscious, such as music or the metronome.
What is the use of knowing the cadence data?
Controlling the stride rate allows to avoid the excesses of speed that the body cannot support, that is to say, it reduces the injuries, especially the break of fibers. The cadence allows you to measure the speed you can endure.
When the cadence is very low, it means that you are taking long steps, landing first on the heel and slowing the forward movement of the impulse. Try to step further from the center of gravity. In the same way, the only way to increase the stride rate is to obtain more muscular strength in the leg, training for a long time, not only with the technique you will be able to considerably increase the rhythm of the cadence.
To achieve an adequate cadence, you have to be consistent with your training and work at different cadences, first, accustom the body to a low cadence for a significant amount of time and go up progressively until you get the cadence you want to achieve. The body will receive different stimuli that will strengthen it. Obviously, if you observe that little by little in the long-term you get less tired and run at a faster pace, it will mean that you are obtaining results by varying the cadence.
Control cadence for injury prevention
A person of 70 kg who runs 10 minutes withstands a considerable impact on his legs, approximately 252,000 kilograms. Each step causes a shock wave that is transmitted through the human skeletal system, these impacts can damage the limbs and cause injuries, so you have to try to run with the most appropriate posture and technique to reduce the possibility of muscle or joint damage. If you notice less noise at the impact, it means that you have reduced your ground contact time and improved your technique.
It is proven that by enhancing the cadence we step less on the heel and provide more strength from the hip to the central part and to the front part of the foot.
This is how Ryan Knapp, triathlon coach of the PRS FIT, in Colorado explains the deficiencies of running using the heel and not taking care of a proper posture and cadence:
If a runner has a stride rate of 160spm, it is most likely that he or she is a runner that strikes the heel and overextends the leg, this creates a braking movement which can cause injuries due to impact on the body.
Exercises To Run With A Higher Cadence
Running with a cadence close to 180 steps per minute is not easy. The first times you try, you will feel weird, and you should be very aware of every step you take.
Another difficulty is usually the confusion that increasing cadence means running faster when, in reality, it means taking more (shorter) steps in the same amount of time.
Basically, to increase your cadence you must work on your stride and its amplitude. As you read at the beginning of the article, the amplitude or
length of the stride is the distance you cover with one step while running.
Technically, the stride is the distance from the point of contact of one of the feet to the point of contact of the opposite foot.
In addition to this, you should have your feet and calves trained to react quickly to each step you take, and for this, it will be important that you include exercises like the ones you will see next.
1.- One leg jump (5 to 30 contacts per leg).
2.- Two legs jump (10 to 30 contacts both legs).
3. One leg side string jumps (5 to 30 contacts per leg).
4. One leg front rope jumps (5 to 30 contacts per leg).
5.- One leg front, side and rear jumps (8 to 20 contacts per leg and in both directions).
6. Two legs front rope jumps (5 to 30 contacts per leg).
7. Two legs side strip jumps (5 to 30 contacts per leg).
8. Two legs front, side and rear jumps (8 to 20 contacts in both directions).