BY ALISON MCGINNIS, DPT, PT, FAFS
Have you been plagued by running injuries? Want to know the easiest way to decrease your odds of getting injured?? Increase your cadence!
Cadence is the number of steps you take per minute. It is also called your stride rate. It counts both right and left foot strikes. Cadence is independent of step length, but the two add together to give you your pace.
Research has shown that increasing your running cadence improves your overall running economy and decreases the impact forces that occur in your leg when it interacts with the ground during every step. A systematic review from Schubert et al in 2014 showed consistent evidence from multiple studies that increased stride rate decreased vertical excursion, ground reaction force, shock attenuation, and energy absorption at the lower extremity joints. Cadence has also been shown to decrease braking forces at initial contact. All of these are common factors that lead to injury.
The ideal running cadence/stride rate is around 180 steps per minute, which is 90 right and 90 left steps each minute. This is the optimal rate to reduce injury. If you run with a smart watch it probably gives you the average cadence for your run. If you don’t have a smart watch, simply count how many times your right foot hits the ground in 20 seconds and multiply that number by 6. That will give you your total steps per minute.
Now that you know your typical cadence, see how far off you are from 180. If you’re pretty close, great! If you’re a bit farther off, consider this an important thing to work on as part of your training. And remember, cadence is a component of pace. Ideally your cadence should remain around 180 regardless of the pace you’re running. The change in speed happens by changing your stride length. But if your cadence is low, you’ll have to start by decreasing your stride length in order to increase your cadence. Once you’ve mastered the cadence and your cardiovascular system has adapted, then you’ll be able to change the stride length to hit different paces for different workouts.
I recommend using a metronome app while you run to get used to the new tempo. Start by adding 5 to your current race (ie if your current rate is 160 steps/min, set the metronome for 165) on easy runs. Once this cadence becomes comfortable, then add another 5 until you can comfortably run at 180 steps/minute. If you hate listening to a metronome (raised hand emoji), there are several music stations based on beats per minute, so pick one that only plays songs at 180bpm and run to the tempo.
Ask any questions below, and leave us comments to let us know how you’re working on your cadence!