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Running Cadence and why it is important

Cadence (also known as stride rate or turnover) is a word commonly thrown around in the running community.  We are often told to improve our cadence, but what does this term actually mean?  Everything a runner needs to know about cadence is described here. 

What is Cadence?
Cadence is the term used to refer to how many times a runner’s feet hit the ground over a 60 second time period.  Typically, cadence varies depending on pace, with faster speeds requiring a quicker cadence.  Oftentimes, a runner’s cadence is also a sign of efficiency. 

How do I Determine my Cadence?
To calculate your cadence, count how many times your right foot hits the ground during a random 60 second interval of your run and then double that number.  Wait to take this measurement until after your warm up so that you can ensure all systems are working properly.  Determine your cadence at different paces including easy day pace, tempo pace, interval pace, and race pace. 

What is my Ideal Cadence?
Ideal cadence will vary by individual.  For recreational runners, 160 – 170 beats per minute (bpm) is standard, with 180 bpm considered optimal.  Elite runners often have top-speed cadences near 200 bpm.  Factors such as height, weight, and running form affect this number, and a low cadence (below 160 bpm) may indicate inefficiency. 

Why is Cadence Important?
The importance of cadence lies in efficiency and injury prevention.  Light, quick steps are important for covering ground quickly during a run or race, and cadence is a direct measure of this ability.  The greater amount of time your foot spends on the ground, the more force you have to generate in order to push off the pavement.  Additionally, people with lower cadences tend to overstride, which occurs when you land with your foot in front of your knee (typically on your heel).  People who overstride are more prone to lower leg injuries as opposed to those with higher cadences who land on their forefeet.

 

Moreover, a person with a higher cadence will be exerting less force on the ground, meaning less impact on the body.  In this way, a quicker cadence may be the key to reducing injuries such as stress fractures and shin splints. 

How can I Improve my Cadence?
Strides
Cadence is directly related to pace, with faster running requiring a quicker cadence.  Therefore, the best way to develop your cadence is to practice running faster.  Since you should not run a workout every single day, strides can be performed after your run.  Find a soccer field or other grassy area and run 6 – 8 x 30 second bursts at 90% effort. 

Hill Repeats
Hills naturally force a runner to shorten his or her stride and take light steps.  Incorporating hill work into your routine once or twice per week can lead to improvements in turnover.

Play Lists
There are apps you can download that will only play music with 180 bpm or greater, such as RockMyRun.  These tools help improve cadence because our bodies naturally want to stay on rhythm with the beat.