Running mechanics can be broken down into infinitesimal levels and require athletes to generate a deep connection with their bodies in order to make changes. These changes often only occur as a result of months of training and re-evaluation, but they can bring great benefit. Luckily, there are some simple changes you can make that have tremendous benefit and require far less in-depth analysis.
Cadence is defined as the number of steps taken per minute while running, when counting left-right, left-right. A common number that is thrown around as a “good” cadence is 180 steps per minute, though research has shown that anywhere from 170-200 can be optimal for any given athlete. This is therefore not an exact science. But the good news is that most of us are far from this optimal zone, making this any easy change to initiate.
To record your cadence, run for one minute while counting your steps. Most of us will probably fall in the 150-165 range. While it may be tempting to try to jump right to 170+ steps, you need to make changes in small increments. Just like at the gym – you wouldn’t move from 100 to 175 pounds on the leg press, right? It’s best to try to increase the cadence 5% at a time. So, if your cadence was 155, we would set a goal of 163 steps per minute. Once that became comfortable, we would then set a goal of 170.
The benefit of an increasing cadence is a decreasing stride length. Shorter steps mean that every time your foot hits the ground it is underneath you, while longer strides place the foot father out in front of you. Not only does this create a breaking impulse that robs you of momentum, it will make you hit the ground harder and make your muscles work harder to absorb the impact. It can be difficult to think about shortening your stride length in the middle of a run, but cadence training makes it much easier by giving you a simple cue to follow.
If you have an Apple watch or a GPS watch, it can likely track your cadence in real time for you, and these are fairly accurate. If you do not, search for a free metronome in the app store. This will provide a beat to run to, giving you an auditory cue of when each foot should hit the ground. Gradually use the metronome less and less for feedback, until a cadence feels natural. Then increase it again if necessary.
After higher cadence runs, your legs shouldn’t feel quite as beat up and your stride should feel a bit smoother – once you get used to this new running style, anyway! Give it a try and see the benefits for yourself.