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Running Cadence and Stride: Improve Your Form and Focus

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With people becoming more conscious of their health, lately, everyone has been trying to take up a hobby or the other. In fact, it has become the need of the day. For a fast and fruitful result, many people have opted different forms of running which they can enjoy without getting exhausted. Running is an ideal way to stay fit. If you have incorporated running into your lifestyle, firstly, good job. Next, you should know the correct running technique, the right way to run and most important the running cadence.

Running cadence plays an important role in keeping running injuries, lower leg stresses at bay. Let’s discover all about cadence and how to improve it.

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The Importance of Running Cadence

What does cadence actually mean? Cadence definition, in running parlance, is the most common standard used in the measurement of running form that is calculated by the number of steps a runner takes in one minute.

Cadence is an important part of running and it helps runners to reduce stress on their feet, ankles and knees, improve their running economy, lower their injury risks, and cover the maximum distance with minimum effort. 

A faster cadence usually causes a runner to hit midfoot as compared with the runners with lengthy strides. The lengthy strides usually lead runners to stretch their legs out after their body, thus resulting in a braking effect, which can slow them down and increase the risks of injuries. What more can you wish for in this age?

know your cadence
Understand your running form

The Science of Running Cadence

Listed below are the scientific details of running cadence:

1. Several types of research have proven that an enhanced cadence lowers the impact forces of running. A cadence of more than 90 (for each leg) significantly reduces the chances of injuries.

2. The maximum impact force at a cadence of 88 being above half than that of a cadence of 64.

3. A greater cadence also lessens maximum leg deceleration as well as maximum impact forces in the knee and ankle joints.

4. Greater cadence is also related to a decreasing in over striding. Increased cadence is a better way to correct overstriding.

5. A cadence of about 90 is also connected with the higher economy than cadence below 90 or above 90. A cadence of 90 is somewhat close to optimum cadence.

6. A greater cadence lowers Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness and the subsequent weakness.

7. A research pointed out that as people become fatigued, their cadence increases and with the greater cadence comes reduced impact forces. Even though a reduced stride or quicker cadence gives rises to less landing force.

8. Knees absorb the impact forces created from longer stride length. Thus longer stride rate greatly increases the risks of injuries and pain of the knees and long strides are harmful to knees.

9. Addition of weight to average runners’ ankles did not alter their Cadence or stride length at different speeds.

10. According to some scientific researchers, enhanced Cadence lessens shock at the feet, ankle, knee and hip vertical oscillation and ground contact time.

11. Running barefoot is associated with greater cadence compared to shod.

12. A runner’s leg spring stiffness is directly proportional to his/her cadence.

Finding your Current + Optimal Running Cadence

Okay, you have started doing it regularly. Now, how to calculate one’s current and optimal running cadence? Not to worry as it’s quite simple. You can find your present running cadence by the following ways:

  • Keep a track of the number of times your right foot (or left foot) touches the ground in 60 seconds and double the number to get the total for both feet. To get a clearer picture and accuracy, repeat this a few times.
  • Several smartwatches are available that can measure your cadence.
  • Other wearable gears also can measure cadence as well as heart rate, blood pressure, calorie count, etc.

If you are an average runner, you will most likely have a cadence between 150 strides per minute (spm) and 180spm, or more if you are a professional/serious runner.

However, if your cadence is lower than 160spm then you are probably over striding. However, by finding your optimal cadence you can improve your running experience and overall fitness. Your optimal cadence is determined by various factors such as your weight, height and running ability.

measure cadence with smartwatch
Find your cadence (source)

Is there a best running cadence?

It is believed that a cadence of 180spm or higher results in efficient running, reduced stress on feet, ankles and knees, better running economy, reduction of injury risks, and better running experience.

Usually professional, elite, or serious runners are likely to have stride-rate of at least 180spm while average, novice or recreational runners are disposed to have stride-rate between 150spm and 170spm.

However, there is no such thing as a best cadence as the differences in our biological make-up, i.e. the variation in height, weight, level of fitness, foot structure, hip mobility, fat percentage, among other factors, determine the cadence. If a person tries to alter his/her cadence drastically, then the results will be more negative than positive.

Although it is desirable for a person, aiming to be an elite runner, to achieve a cadence of over 180spm, the journey to the desired cadence needs to be gradual.

Increase your Running Cadence

After determining your current cadence, it is quite easier for you to reach to your optimal cadence.

So, how to do it?

You need to take one of your base spm and add five to ten percent to it to determine your personal goal cadence number. Suppose, your base cadence is 165spm, your personal goal cadence should be between 170spm and 180spm.

How Stride Length Affects Your Cadence and Form

If you have low cadence rate, chances are high that you have a long stride length and it makes you run more bouncy and choppy, which also means high risks of injury. Reducing your stride length will improve your cadence, make your run faster and smoother and lower your chances of getting injured.

Furthermore, a reduction in your stride length will improve your position and landing and will enhance your turnover and energy.

How to Improve Your Cadence

To improve cadence, you would be better off by focusing on smaller steps and making you run more consistent and smooth. You can use a metronome as that will set a number of clicks or beats per minute and you run to the rhythm where each click equals a step. The cadence running music will set the pace for you without requiring you to count your steps.

You can use a running cadence app that will help you to remain on track and gauge your progress in real time. You can also try some warm-up exercises, such as push-ups and downhill sprints, to increase your turnover. Practice on a treadmill by setting an appropriate speed.

push ups
Push ups to improve cadence

How do Elite Runners Increase Run Cadence?

Runners can increase their run cadence by the following steps:

1. Briskly walking for 2-3 minutes to warm up and running with minimum effort for 3-5 minutes. Before starting to run the drill should be repeated four times.

2. Jogging by taking quick, light steps and landing under hips making a midfoot strike. The objective should be to run at a cadence of 180spm.

3. Counting your cadence or using a running cadence app or running cadence music that will enable a runner to achieve a cadence of 180spm.

4. Maintaining the cadence of 180spm while leaning a bit forward from ankles, opening the stride and beginning to run forward.

5. Maintaining the cadence for 15 to 20 seconds and slowing down gradually and walking for a minute to recover.

6. Focusing on keeping the feet faster and landing under hips at the same time expanding the stride to cover more distance and run quick.

jogging to improve cadence
Jog to Improve Cadence

Know all about Running Stride and Heel Strike

What Does a Running Stride Involve?

Running stride involves two phases – the Stance Phase and the Swing Phase. In the Stance Phase, the foot is in contact with the ground, while during the Swing Phase, the foot is off the ground.

The Stance Phase is divided into four phases, namely:

  • Initial Contact:

 In initial contact, the foot of the front leg touches the ground first. In this phase, the heel is the only part of the reference foot to make a contact to the ground

  • Absorption/braking:

This is when the body makes a controlled landing and takes up the elastic energy to use in momentum. The weight is shifted to the reference foot. The phase is important for shock-absorption, weight-bearing, and forward progression.

  • Midstance:

This is the moment when the leg on the ground takes the most loads as the body passes over it. This phase entails position and balancing of body weight on the reference foot.

  • Propulsion:

The foot, ankle, hip, and knee all extending to propel the body up and drives using the elastic energy captivated during break, equal to the moment when the foot parts the ground.

What is Overstriding

Stride length running is the length of the ground that a runner covers in a single step. Overstriding means running in excessive long strides where foot strikes the ground well ahead of the hips.

In over striding, heel makes the initial contact with the ground while the knee is straight and locked out. Overstriding is generally associated with the generation of excessive impact and greater braking force.

How to Know if You are Over striding?

To know your stride length while running it is imperative to observe your running technique. In case you find that you are making heel strike to the ground you should find out the reason why you are doing that in the first place. Is it your natural pattern or are you unable to implement a paw back action to your stride?

It has been found that the runners those who land on their heel fail to implement a paw back action as part of their stride.

How to Correct Over Striding?

1. To reduce over-striding, it is advisable to lean-forward more with head and upper part of the body.

2. A runner’s reference foot contact with the ground should be beneath his/her centre of mass, which will enable him/her to have a greater turnover rate.

3. Jog in place with the objective of taking quick, light steps and landing underneath of your hips and the upper part or middle part of your foot.

4. Determine your cadence while jogging in place by counting the number of times your right foot (or left foot) touches the ground in 60 seconds and double the number to get the total for both feet.

5. Maintain your cadence by leaning a little forward from your ankles, open your stride a little and begin to jog forward.

understand your running form
The right way to run

Heel Striking

Heel striking means landing on the heel portion on the ground or running track while running. Over the years, the rear foot strike has been blamed as the main culprit of running injury. This pattern of running is believed to be inefficient for runners.

However, studies have established that running efficiency does not depend on which part of the foot makes the contact with the ground, but how close the first contact is to beneath the hips.

A heel strike that touches ground close to the hips and on a bent knee does not cause any considerable over-loading or over-braking to the knee.

heel strike
Are you running the right way? (source)

Is Landing with a Heel Strike Running Bad?

A majority of runners tend to make the contact with the ground with their heels while running and it is thought to be harmful to the runners to do so.

Running experts believe that a forefoot or midfoot strike pattern is safer than the heel strike pattern as the former patterns lessen the impact loads and increase energy storage and return in tendons of the runners, thereby making them more agile and efficient.  

Does Running With a Heel Strike Cause Injuries?

However, the belief that running with a heel strike causes more injuries than running with a forefoot or midfoot strike has never been proven. In fact, research assessing injury rates with respect to various ground striking points in over 1600 runners has been unable to show any difference in the occurrence of running-related injuries between forefoot and heel strikers.

A study also found out that majority runners switching from their natural heel strike style to forefoot or midfoot strike style are more prone to injuries.

Runners with neutral arches, wide forefeet and flexible calves transition well from heel strike style to midfoot strike style. However, flat-footed runners and high-arched runners bidding to switch from heel strike style to forefoot strike style end up with injuries such as Achilles tendinitis, plantar fasciitis, metatarsal stress fractures and sprained ankles.

Hence, it is recommended to stick to one’s natural ground striking style or transition to any other striking patterns only after consulting a running expert.

proper running form
Running form

Wrapping Up

Beginners in nearly all sport spend a large part of their time in mastering the proper technique. So if you are a runner, or love running, you need to master the effective running techniques for achieving greater speed, improving running economy, lowering injury risks, covering maximum distance with minimum effort as well as reducing stress on feet, ankles, and knees.

Does it not make perfect sense to know your optimal cadence and stride length that will enable you to enjoy your running experience and enable you to become a better runner with each passing day?

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