Cadence has become the talk of the town when it comes to measuring your running efficiency. Cadence, or the number of steps that you do in a minute, multiplied by stride length typically measures how fast the runner is going. Many fitness watches have the ability to measure your cadence and other metrics while you’re on the run. Knowing this, why is cadence an important metric in measuring running efficiency?
There is a reason that running cadence is the most common metric used to measure efficiency in running form. If your cadence is low, you’ll most likely have a longer stride. While this might seem great on paper, having longer strides makes you more likely to land on your heel in front of the body (overstriding), which brings a lot of impact into your knees and hips. This makes you more susceptible to injuries and also creates a “braking” motion which in the long run makes for slower running.
Increasing your cadence is much more than just moving your feet faster on the run. An increased cadence means changing where your foot lands in relation to the rest of your body. Having a higher cadence allows your foot to land underneath you nearer to your center of gravity. Doing so shortens your stride, focusing your body’s momentum toward forward motion instead of oscillating up and down.
Increasing your cadence also helps prevent injuries since you’re limiting the amount of force that your foot has when hitting the ground, and decreasing the amount of ground contact time. Less ground contact time, less impact on your legs, less risk for injury.
A lot of fitness bands and watches will measure your running cadence for you, but you benefit from knowing how to measure it the old-fashioned analog way. Compute your run cadence by counting how many times both of your feet hit the ground in a minute. If you’re having trouble doing that, you can also just count the steps one foot takes in a minute, then multiply it by 2. This method is actually more accurate.
While many numbers have been thrown around about what the perfect cadence is, your actual running cadence varies due to a number of factors like the terrain you’re running on, your biomechanics or how you run, your height and most importantly, your speed. So, how can you determine a running cadence tailor-made for you?
This becomes a matter of picking the right time during your run to measure your cadence. Your cadence number is relevant only when you’re running at an easy pace because a majority of your runs should be done at this pace, so you should strive to be more efficient at this pace.
Studies show that many recreational runners will benefit from increasing their cadence even by a little bit.
First, find your current run cadence and increase it by 5 to 10 percent. Then increase your cadence to that level for one to two runs per week or for short stints in each run session.
Increasing cadence will usually result in increased pace, but you don’t want that during these practice sessions. Using a treadmill can help since you can set a certain speed that will remain steady even if your cadence changes. To promote faster turnover, imagine yourself running on hot lava!
Finally, test out your new cadence in a race, preferably a 5K. Once that’s done, you can add another 5 percent if you want to and just repeat the process.
You will find diminishing returns at some point where an overly fast cadence makes you expend more energy than you save with form efficiency. But the key is to work incrementally to find those improvements for yourself so you can run efficiently, injury-free, and faster.
(Header photo by Fitsum Admasu on Unsplash.)
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