It feels uncomfortable, unnatural and strange. Most will resist but the reality is that one of the only constants in life is change. People, circumstances and things change. It can be small, big, subtle or sudden and it is often a consequence rather than a choice. New ideas are often smothered by complacency, inertia and fear. But the capability to change is not only critical, it is crucial not only in order to progress but to survive. Having the will to change is common but having the will power to drive transformation is rare – allowing the “status quo” to reign. Just like in life, in running, allowing the status quo to linger untested causes stagnation and possibly even injury. We all have a very personal way of moving, each person moves in a different way, and running is no different. It is often possible to identify a runner in the distance from their running pattern long before their face is recognisable. But just like all things a willingness to change the way you run may be the key to improving the running experience.
Although our running gait is unique it is easy to manipulate and consciously change in order to improve performance and protect from injury. The easiest aspect of running form to change is the running cadence. Cadence is a measure of how often the feet touch the ground and it’s simple to modify. Running at a 5-10% higher rate of cadence (than your norm for a given pace) results in a reduction of impact loading on the knee and hip joints. It decreases the amount of vertical displacement (bounce), shortens stride length, and reduces the braking force at contact with the ground. Recreational runners typically have a cadence close to 160, which may put them at risk of injury because the longer strides necessitated by a slower cadence takes runners higher off the ground. This in turn means that each footfall is harder, and many running injuries are associated with the shock of landing (Heiderscheit et al., 2011; Schubert et al., 2014). However, beyond considering injury risk and impact forces, there’s a more basic reason to aim for a stride rate of 170 or above, and that’s the elasticity of connective tissue. In each running stride up to 50% of your energy comes from energy stored by connective tissue having been stretched by the previous landing – its free speed!! However the tissue won’t spring back very well if running cadence is too slow. At slower stride rates, below 170 and less, this benefit is lost the muscles are forced to generate more force and the free speed is lost. Injury is not the only reason to embrace a higher cadence. The top runners, the really quick ones maintain a stride rate of over 180 steps per minute and higher. While there is no exact magic cadence number, changing and increasing the leg turnover can help you become a more efficient runner. It might even save you from injury. if the cadence can be improved to 175-180 it should lead to quicker times without necessarily improving fitness levels. All you need to aim for is 30 steps with your right foot every 20 seconds; this corresponds to a cadence of 180. But “It’s not the progress I mind, it’s the change I don’t like” —Mark Twain
Heiderscheit BC, Chumanov ES, Michalski MP, Wille CM & Ryan MB. (2011). Effects of step rate manipulation on joint mechanics during running. Med Sci Sports Exerc 43, 296-302.
Schubert AG, Kempf J & Heiderscheit BC. (2014). Influence of stride frequency and length on running mechanics: a systematic review. Sports Health 6, 210-217.