Running Cadence: What is it and why it matters

What is Running Cadence?  Cadence refers to the number of steps you take per minute while running.

Why should I know my cadence? A lower cadence (fewer steps per minute) has been associated with higher forces on the body, which can lead to injuries or decreased performance. Small increases in cadence (from 5-10%) have been shown to reduce these forces, which can in turn improve performance and decrease the risk of injury.  

Increasing cadence can lower injury risk by reducing impact forces.  Each time our foot hits the ground when running, we have to manage forces 2.5-3 times our body weight!  If you take more steps in a given minute, you reduce the amount of force per step.  A higher cadence also often corresponds with landing your foot closer to your body (as oppose to farther in front of you), which distributes the workload more evenly among your joints.  This is particularly beneficial in lowering the risk of injuries such as shin splints and stress fractures.

A higher running cadence has been associated with enhanced running efficiency.  Studies suggest that increasing your running cadence may positively influence your running economy, allowing you to cover more distance with less energy expenditure. A quicker turnover usually reduces the braking forces and deceleration associated with longer, slower strides.  This is a significant advantage, especially during long-distance runs.

Who might benefit from changing their cadence? There is no one ideal cadence for everyone, and not everyone needs to change their cadence.  If you have a running related injury (like knee pain, Achilles pain, IT Band Syndrome, shin splints etc.), and you have a lower cadence, you will likely benefit from increasing your steps per minute.  If you have a very low cadence (below ~160), it is a good idea to slightly increase your turnover to reduce your risk of injury. 

How do I measure my cadence? Count the number of times your foot hits the ground in 1 minute.  You can also count just the left foot or just the right foot and multiply that by 2. If you use a running watch like a Garmin, it will provide an average cadence for each of your runs.  Run analysis technologies, like RunDNA, will also provide an accurate cadence count.

How do I retrain my cadence? Any changes to your gait should be small and gradual.  We generally recommend that you increase cadence by 5-10%.  (Multiply your cadence by .05-.1 and add that number).  It is helpful to listen to a metronome (download an app on your phone), or listen to songs with a tempo that match the cadence you are trying to hit.  You can search on Spotify for songs with specific beats per minute. Maintain your pace while increasing your cadence – don’t just go faster!  Training cadence on a treadmill is great because it holds you to a consistent speed.

Runners that are injured, or trying to increase performance, may benefit from other gait adjustments in addition to changing cadence.  Cadence retraining, however, is an easy and effective place to start!

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