Cadence (or stride rate) is simply “How many steps you take in one minute”. When running, knowing your cadence can be a useful tool to help improve technique. Think about cycling up a hill in a high gear. It requires a lot of effort to turn the pedals and is quite inefficient. If you change to a low gear you can turn the pedals much easier and less effort is required to climb the hill.
The same is true with your running. If you can take more steps and therefore distribute the load over more strides then it can reduce the effort required to propel you forward. Increasing your cadence does not mean increasing your speed. Speed is a function of cadence and stride length. Increasing either one can increase your speed.
If you are asked to increase your cadence when running we are not usually wanting you to increase your speed at the same time. Therefore your stride length should reduce. Reducing your stride length will cause you to land with your foot closer to under your body rather than out in front, which will in turn reduce the load that is transmitted through the limb. This can help reduce symptoms like knee pain with running and improves running efficiency.
What is the “right” cadence?
Jack Daniels conducted an experiment in the 1984 Olympics, looking at every distance runners cadence. Only one athlete ran at a lower cadence than 180 steps per minute (and she was 176). Most elite athletes run with a naturally high cadence of between 180-200.
A lot of recreational runners tend to run with a cadence around 150-170 with long strides. Increasing your cadence by 5% can demonstrate a reduction in forces absorbed through the knee and increasing cadence by 10% can reduce forces through the knee and hip.
How to increase your cadence:
First, count your steps while running. Count how many times your right foot lands in a 30-second period and then multiply by four to get your total stride rate per minute.
It’s easiest to improve your cadence on a treadmill where you can set the speed to stay the same and work on increasing the number of steps you take. Try and aim for 180 steps per minute. It may take you a while to work up to this tempo.
If you can run in time to music, Spotify has a great feature which can help. Find the running section. Select a sound track. Start running or skip this step and set your cadence. The music will automatically adjust to your stride rate to help you maintain the cadence. Now all you have to do is run in time…
Guest Author: David Harris
David is the clinical director of Oxford Circus Physiotherapy. He’s actively worked in physiotherapy for 15 years and specialises in spinal pain, sporting injuries, muscular imbalance and exercise prescription. David has worked for professional sports teams and was part of the New Zealand Health team for the Olympic and Commonwealth games. For more information about Oxford Circus Physiotherapy, please click here.