Photo: Dan Chabert
Something that attracted me to running long ago when I first laced up, was its simplicity — putting one foot in front of the other, hundreds, if not thousands of times. As I've grown older and more experienced, though, I've learned that running is simple, but it's actually, kind of not, too.
When we boil down running to some of its barest parts, it's imperative we look at cadence – how many steps or strides we take, per minute. As it turns out, it matters, and our cadence affects a lot about our running.
There's a long-held belief that runners should try to achieve a cadence of about 180 steps per minute, a cadence that will make it less likely that you overstride (landing with your feet beyond your centre of gravity). If you're less likely to overstride, you'll also be less likely to fall victim to common running-related maladies such as shin splints. A lot of factors affect cadence when we run. Terrain for one, since running uphill on jagged trails surely will result in drastically different running than what you'd post on flat pavement. But the basic premise is that runners should try to be swift on their feet and land each step with feet directly below their centre of gravity, not ahead of it.
Most runners would stand to benefit from increasing cadence, even if only by a small margin. If nothing else, taking time to observe your cadence trends and, eventually, learning how to increase your cadence, will help you become cognizant of the near-constant braking and excessive forces that come about when we overstride and land with our knees locked and feet straight out in front of our hips. Becoming a more efficient runner – by having a more efficient cadence – can help ward off injuries.
Running is a simple activity to enjoy, yet it's anything but a simple motion. Our cadence matters a great deal to our running and our injury propensity, but fortunately, there are steps that we can take to improve our stride.
5 Tips for Training Cadence
1. Know your beginning point
Get baseline data so you can plan your program and monitor progress. All you have to do to determine cadence is go for a run and count how many times one foot hits the ground in a 30-second timeframe. Once you have that value, multiply it by two to find the number of times your foot hits the ground in one-minute. Then double it again to determine how many times both feet hit the ground in a minute.
2. Slow & steady wins the race
Once you have a cadence starting point, slowly attempt to increase your value by as little as 5 per cent. This will likely mean your running form feels a little different, especially if you were prone to excessively overstriding in the first place. Be patient and trust the process. Change isn't going to happen overnight.
3. Technology is your friend
Many GPS devices come with a built-in accelerometer, which means you can get feedback on your cadence values after every run. Once you master how to capture your cadence – be it by using technology or doing it old school – be sure to assess your values on a regular basis so you can determine trends over time.
4. Form drills help
Get in the habit of landing with your feet directly under your body with a simple marching drill. Coach William Gates, of Ironwill Running in Kentucky, says, "Standing tall with your shoulders back, begin marching in place and swinging your arms, bent at 90 degrees." Work up to jogging, then concentrate on lifting your knees, driving your arms, looking forward (not downward). Work on landing your feet directly under your body.
5. Coach knows
Consider finding a coach. Good coaches understand the biodynamics at work in running. A coach can customize a training plan for you that considers your height, speed and stride length to work on your cadence.
Dan Chabert – Ultramarathon runner based in Copenhagen, Denmark