Run Question: Increasing Your Running Cadence

author : Amanda McCracken
comments : 4

Member Question:

Cadence: How do you increase it? I know it seems rather simple, just turn over your legs faster and you will have a higher cadence, but when I do so, my stride feels choppy because I have to shorten my stride length in order to do it. I'm not a fast runner by any means and I want to go faster...what are some of your tips? Right now, my average cadence is 80 (on one side) as measured by my new Garmin Footpod .

Answer by Amanda McCracken
D3Multisport

A runner’s cadence, the number of times a foot hits the ground in a given time period, is one of the easiest areas to address to speed up your running. Similar to cycling, the optimal cadence for runners is 180 steps per minute or 90 steps per foot. Simply telling yourself to increase turnover doesn’t improve cadence as you’ve realized this point. While the clear objective is to increase your turnover, there are several things a runner must consider.

Stride Length
While in swimming an athlete strives to lengthen their stroke while increasing the efficiency of their pull, runners ideally do not want to lengthen their stride. In fact a loping stride results in a slow cadence which in turn creates inefficiency. Consider it like running a continual game of fall and catch. When over striding, instead of your foot falling right below your knee (as it should), your foot falls in front of your knee. Before you can apply the power that propels your body forward, you have to wait for your body to catch up to your foot plant. If you land with your foot way out in front of your center of gravity, you are basically putting on the brakes. Your leg, acting as a lever, is minimizing the momentum of your fall forward by supporting your weight behind you.

 

If you watch elite runners, you will notice that most have a short, quick stride and keep their arms close to their body. They don’t spend much time in the air but rather stay more “grounded”. One trick to shorten your stride, in order to pick up your cadence, is to practice running very close to someone’s shoulder or directly behind them. This is best done on a track during repeats.

 

Remember those annoying competitors in high school track who you wished would pass you or back off? Be that annoying runner for the sake of a drill. Run so close that you are afraid you might step on his/her heels. You will find that your cadence feels choppy but as you grow more comfortable this shorter stride will make you a more efficient runner once you are able to mimic it outside of a “drill” environment.

Neuromuscular Activity = Need for Repetition
For most people, it should be a relief to know that improving your cadence is more of neuromuscular rather than anaerobic training. You are trying to make that connection between mind and muscle through repetition until it becomes ingrained into your running form. Don’t leave cadence drills for days when you are doing other drills. Sandwich one minute of cadence counting in the middle of a run.

 

You don’t need any fancy gear. Just pay attention to your watch for 60 seconds and count how many steps you take with your right or left foot. Jog for a couple of minutes and then repeat the 60 second interval, this time trying to improve your cadence by four to six steps. Repeat this drill five to six times during a moderate to easy run.

 

You can also do this at the track or a clear, flat surface. Repeat five to six times, trying to improve your cadence until you begin to feel like you are really working. Remember, this should not be a sprint. It’s a motor skill activity. You are developing muscle memory so that when you tell your body to kick into the next gear, it is already familiar with what that gear feels like.

Overall Form
Bobby McGee, a biomechanic in Boulder, provides an excellent visual description of a biomechanically efficient stride to encourage faster cadence. “Try imagining that you're running below a ceiling that's just inches above your head. Land with each footstrike as a quick touchdown below your knees, not a full-contact landing ahead of your knees. Take more than 90 right-foot steps (180 total steps) per minute, and lean slightly forward so your shoulders are ahead of your hips. Keep your elbows bent at about 90 degrees throughout the arm swing, as unhinging the elbows encourages upward motion.” The more a runner bounces the more energy they waste in the air as he/she decelerates and the quicker the quads tire from absorbing impact.

Benefits of Reduced Injury
Besides the obvious benefits of getting faster through improved cadence, you are also decreasing your chance of injury. Consider that the more time you spend suspended in the air, the more impact your body has to absorb with the landing. The average force generated (depending on a few factors) is at least five to six times our body weight. It is basic physics: Force = Mass X Acceleration. Acceleration is directly proportionate to the vertical displacement of your foot from the ground. So, the higher you bounce, the further you have to come down, the faster you accelerate and in turn the more force you apply to your bones when you land.

 

You may argue that a runner with a longer stride who spends more time in the air will be taking fewer strides and thus off setting some of this extra force. However, the average force per stride will definitely be larger and with repetition this runner’s stride will wear more on the muscles.

 

You’ve probably heard of the penny problem, right? If you drop a penny off the kitchen table, it’s not going to harm your baby brother crawling below; however, if you drop it off the Empire State building and it hits someone on the head, it’s likely to kill that person. While this is only a hypothesis, and perhaps a myth, a similar analogy can be made with running. Quicker cadence means less suspended time which in turn means less impact on the joints and bones when you land.

Count Your Cadence!

Make counting your cadence a routine drill during runs and concentrate on shortening that stride until you can get more comfortable with (what seems at first like) a “choppier” stride. When (for some of us) age is fighting against our aerobic capacities and our bodies’ ability to rebound from repetitive impact, focusing on cadence improvement will still help to increase your running speed.

I hope you can use these tips to help improve your cadence!

 



Coach Amanda McCracken is a USAT Certified Coach and can be reached for personal coaching at www.D3Multisport.com 

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date: January 16, 2008

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Amanda McCracken