When it comes to proper running form, running cadence is probably one the simplest techniques to master. You may be wondering how you can improve running cadence, or even what is running cadence even is.
Before I delve into the ways you can improve your running cadence, I’d first like to explain what running cadence is and why it is so important when it comes to good running form.
What is running cadence?
Put simply, cadence – also known as stride rate – is the number of steps a runner takes per minute (SPM). It plays an important role when it comes to proper running form, and has even been shown to reduce the risk of injury in runners.
The correct cadence varies amongst runners and depends on factors like height and weight of the runner. Studies have shown, however, that a cadence of 170 SPM or higher is ideal for performance and injury prevention.
If you have a low cadence, you will also likely have a long stride. Overstriding is when your foot lands in front of your body when running, and is often defined as any touchdown on the heel.
Runners who overstride tend to hit the ground with their heel first (also known as ‘heel strike’) and with more force, therefore putting extra pressure on their heels, knees, muscles and joints. Over time this can lead to strain and injury.
According to a 2014 study, there is consistent evidence that increased cadence resulted in decreased centre of mass vertical excursion, ground reaction force, shock attenuation, and energy absorption at the hip, knee and ankle joints.
When you increase your cadence, you’re effectively changing the position of where your foot lands. Rather than having your foot land in front of your hips, with a higher cadence, it lands underneath you – in your centre of gravity.
A quick cadence generally leads to a midfoot landing, which is considered to be the optimal running footstrike as it reduces the impact forces on your body, therefore reducing the risk of injury.
The more steps you take per minute, the less time you spend in the air, equaling a softer impact on landing.
4 ways to improve running cadence
Measure your running cadence
Before you can increase your running cadence, you will need to measure your current running cadence and see what improvements need to be made.
As mentioned earlier, the ideal running cadence is over 170 SPM. However, this will vary slightly depending on your height, weight and running experience as well as the distance you’re running. For example, the stride rate of a marathon runner will be slightly different from that of a 10k runner.
The simplest way to measure your running cadence is to count your strides for 30 seconds and then multiply by two.
Remember to maintain a consistent pace while you’re counting, as your cadence will change as you increase and decrease your pace.
Once you have this baseline figure, you can then train your body to increase your cadence gradually.
Increase your running cadence using the 5% rule
When increasing your running cadence, it’s important to do it in small, incremental steps. You should try and avoid a sudden increase in your stride rate if you have never done this before.
For example, if you find that you’re currently running at 158 SPM, then target 165 SPM as your new running cadence initially. This will feel much more achievable and realistic than jumping to say 185 SPM.
Increasing your running cadence by 5% may sound insignificant, but studies have shown that even a 5% increase can help to reduce stress on the knees and hips.
Once you are comfortable with your new cadence, then try increasing it gradually by adding 2.5% each time. For example, from 5% increase to 7.5% then 10%.
You should increase your cadence until you are no longer overstriding and you can see that your foot is landing under your centre of mass. It may help to get someone to film you running from the side if you’re unsure.
Run to the beat
Another great way to increase your cadence is to use a metronome. A metronome is a device that produces a click or beat at a regular interval of time. You can set how fast you would like it to go based on beats per second.
There are a few fitness apps on the market nowadays that have a metronome feature included to help you track your stride rate. Here are just a few to get you started:
You can also download songs that are around 170 beats per minute, or at your desired step rate. Simply type into Google ‘songs at 170 BPM’ and you will be presented with some options.
Do some running drills
Running drills are dynamic exercises that help to improve your running form, performance, agility, balance and coordination. Normally, they are included as part of a dynamic warm up or pre-run drill session.
When it comes to running cadence, there are a lot of running drills out there that can help you improve it. Some of these include butt kicks, A-skips, fast feet and high knees.
Not only do these drills help to increase your cadence, but they are great to warm up your muscles and joints before a run. Activating key running muscles like your glutes, quads and hip flexors is essential for any run.