Does the secret to reducing running injuries lie your running cadence ?
Running injuries can be frustrating injuries. They stop us doing what we love to do and often they seem to come out of nowhere and hang around like an unwanted guest at your party.
Is the secret to getting rid of these injuries lie in the cadence of your running ?
What is running cadence ?
Quite simply its the number of steps that you take per minute.
A simple way to calculate this is to count how many times your left or right foot strikes the ground in a minute when running and multiply it by 2. Bingo there’s your cadence.
There are apps on phones that will count cadence when you run and also smart watches that can measure it.
If you do this on a treadmill take note of the speed you are running at as your cadence will tend to change with speed.
What does running cadence have to do with running speed ?
Running speed is cadence (often called stride frequency) x and your stride length.
If you increase your stride frequency (cadence) and/or your stride length then you will run faster.
However you want to find the most efficient way to run so you can run a specified distance as fast as possible or run for a specified amount of time. Cadence is part of the equation that accounts for your technique.
Why is cadence important in preventing running injuries?
A low cadence is associated with over striding and heavy foot contact with the running surface resulting in an increase in ground reaction forces at foot contact, (GFR).
GFR is the force exerted by the ground on a body in contact with it. The greater the force the greater the risk of injury due to loading on joints and reduced ability of the muscles in leg to act as shock absorbers.
These factors are known to be factors in runners developing :
- Anterior knee / Patello femoral joint pain.
- Increase risk Achilles tendinopathy
- plantar fascia injuries.
What are the benefits of higher running cadence ?
Higher cadence of 5-10% , ( 8-17 steps / minute), in running has been shown to reduce forces at the following structures by:
- 15-20% reduction in knee load
- 9-11% lower demand on the hip abductors (muscle on the side of the hip)
- 10% reduction in foot and ankle loads
- 3.6% lower Achilles tendon force
- 20% or more reduction in vertical load reaction forces.
That’s a lot less thumping on the ground, less joint loading and less energy expenditure resulting in less potential for injury and better running.
How do i know if i have a low running cadence rate ?
What is a low cadence rate ? well if you google enough you’ll find that under 170bpm seems to be identified as a low cadence rate.
If you keep googling you will see that 180 is the holy grail of cadence for running. However one size running shoe does not fit all. Greg McMillian recommends that a cadence around 170-190bpm as the sweet zone.
Check the heels on your running shoes. Over striders tend to have lower cadence rates and will strike with shin extended out in front of them and hard with the heel. This creates a braking force and increases the forces,( ground reaction force), going through the body.
Another common history with runners with low cadence rates is that these individuals have started running and worked on steady state runs going for longer and longer. They establish a natural low cadence because very rarely do they train at higher cadence rates through quicker running. (Ref 2.)
Obviously the best thing to do is actually measure your cadence when running at your training pace.
How to calculate your cadence rate
Ideally count your steps and get someone to video your running on the treadmill. Take note of the speed as you want to improve cadence while maintaining speed.
Smart phone metronome apps and GPS watches are other clever methods to measure your cadence and speed while on your training runs. As we discuss later can provide feedback to help you master your cadence rate.
How do i change my running cadence ?
There needs to be a reason as why you need to change your cadence and should relate back to injury history or performance enhancement.
If you are getting recurrent injuries in the lower limbs and you overstride and have low cadence , you may be a good candidate for change.
Research has shown that a simple 5% change in cadence can help reduce forces through the lower without affecting your running technique too much.
As pointed out by Tom Goom, the running physio, when we change cadence we want to do it in small incremental stages over time. It is recommended that a 2.5% – 5% increase at a time is a good way to go. This will reduce risk of too big a change causing other issues.
Running cues to improve cadence
Lets say you assess your running and find the cadence is around 160 bpm.
Using the 2.5-5% increase initially try 164-168bpm and then over time increase to 169-176bpm and then 177-180bpm and so on until you find your sweet spot in that 170-190 bpm zone.
Olympic running coach Greg Mcmillan suggests the following cues:
- Focus on fast feet and a very quick turnover that matches the beat of the metronome. Flick/pull your feet backwards. Don’t reach out in front to go faster.
- Imagine a ladder is on the ground and your feet must land in between the rungs of a ladder. So, instead of striding out to go faster, think of short, quick steps to increase your speed.
Running metronome cadence phone apps
There are metronome running apps or smart GPS watches, such as Garmin, that you can set your desired cadence and run along to it with the appropriate technique cues.
On spotify or itunes you can select playlists that have music that has a rhythm of 180bpm that you can run to
Should everyone change their running cadence rate ?
Don’t change for change sake.
Any change in running technique should be with a specific goal. That may be to improve performance or reduce running related injuries not because some blog or article said you should. You may already be running at YOUR cadence rate quite naturally.
Hope that helps unravel the mystery of cadence and running , if you have any running related injuries you contact us here for assessment or to go through our running strength program.
For a more in depth explanation check out this 20 minute video by the running physio Tom Goom here: