Running Cadence: The Key to Running Faster and Injury-Free

what is running cadence

When it comes to running, most people focus on factors such as distance, pace, and endurance. However, one often overlooked aspect that can significantly impact your performance and reduce the risk of injury is your running cadence. 

Running cadence refers to the number of steps you take per minute while running. In recent years, researchers and coaches have discovered that maintaining an optimal running cadence can lead to faster, more efficient running and a reduced risk of injuries. 

In this article, we will explore what running cadence is, why it matters, how to improve it, common mistakes runners make, and the key takeaways for enhancing your running experience.

What Is a Running Cadence?

Running cadence, also known as step rate, is the number of steps or foot strikes a runner takes in one minute. It is typically measured as steps per minute (SPM). A higher cadence means taking more steps per minute, while a lower cadence means fewer steps. Cadence can be calculated for each foot individually or as the total steps taken by both feet combined.

Why a Running Cadence Matters

Maintaining an optimal running cadence is often overlooked by many runners, yet it holds the key to unlocking faster, more efficient running while reducing the risk of injuries. By understanding why running cadence matters, runners can make conscious efforts to improve their cadence and reap the benefits of improved form, reduced impact, enhanced performance, and an overall more enjoyable running experience.

Injury Prevention

One of the primary reasons running cadence matters is its direct impact on reducing the risk of running-related injuries. When runners have a low cadence, they tend to take longer strides, which increases the impact forces on their bodies with each foot strike. This excessive force can put stress on the joints, muscles, tendons, and bones, potentially leading to overuse injuries.

Running Efficiency

When you increase your cadence, you naturally transition into a shorter stride length and land with your feet closer to your body’s center of mass. This optimal foot placement helps in reducing braking forces and allows for a smoother transition from landing to pushing off. As a result, your running becomes more energy-efficient, requiring less effort to maintain a given pace. 

Biomechanical Alignment

When your cadence is too low, you may be more prone to overstriding, where your foot lands too far in front of your body’s center of mass. Overstriding puts unnecessary stress on the joints, particularly the knees and hips, as they have to absorb more impact. It can also disrupt the natural alignment of your body, leading to inefficient movement patterns. 

Cadence as a Performance Indicator

Your running cadence can serve as a valuable indicator of your running performance and progress. As you become fitter and stronger, your body naturally adapts to a higher cadence. Essentially, it allows you to make adjustments and gauge the impact of your training on your running performance.

Psychological Benefits

Maintaining an optimal running cadence can also have psychological benefits. A higher cadence can provide a sense of rhythm and flow, making your running feel more enjoyable and effortless. It can enhance your overall running experience, boost your confidence, and motivate you to push through challenging moments during your workouts or races.

How to Improve Your Running Cadence

Now that we understand the importance of running cadence, let’s explore practical strategies to help you improve and optimize your cadence. Whether you’re a beginner looking to establish good habits or an experienced runner aiming to fine-tune your performance, these tips will assist you in achieving your cadence goals.

  • Measure your current cadence

Use a running watch, smartphone app, or a metronome to measure your current cadence. Count the number of steps you take with one foot for one minute and double that value to get your total steps per minute.

  • Gradual cadence increase

Aim to increase your cadence gradually rather than making drastic changes. Start by adding 5-10% to your current cadence and focus on maintaining the new rhythm for short intervals during your runs. Over time, your body will adapt to the new cadence.

  • Use a metronome

A metronome is a useful tool to help you establish and maintain a specific cadence. Set it to your desired steps per minute and sync your steps to the metronome beat. There are also smartphone apps available that provide metronome-like functionality.

  • Shorten your stride

To increase your cadence, consciously focus on taking shorter strides. Imagine a faster turnover of your feet, landing lightly on the ground, and pushing off quickly. Avoid overstriding, as it can lead to inefficient and injury-prone running mechanics.

Common Mistakes That Runners Make With Their Cadence

While understanding the importance of running cadence is essential, it is equally crucial to be aware of the common mistakes that runners often make when it comes to their cadence. These mistakes can hinder progress, limit performance gains, and increase the risk of injuries.

  • Overstriding

As mentioned earlier, overstriding, or taking excessively long strides, is counterproductive to improving cadence. Focus on shorter, quicker steps instead.

  • Neglecting strength and flexibility training

Cadence alone won’t solve all your running problems. Incorporate strength and flexibility exercises into your training routine to build a strong foundation and prevent imbalances or weaknesses that could affect your running form.

  • Neglecting rest and recovery

Pushing yourself too hard without allowing for adequate rest and recovery can lead to fatigue, overuse injuries, and hinder your progress. Listen to your body and incorporate rest days into your training plan.

The Takeaway

Running cadence plays a vital role in optimizing running efficiency and reducing the risk of injuries. By increasing your cadence, taking shorter steps, and landing closer to your body’s center of mass, you can improve your running form, reduce the impact on your body, and enhance your overall performance. 

Remember to increase your cadence gradually, focus on proper form, and incorporate strength and flexibility training to support your running cadence goals. By paying attention to this often-overlooked aspect of running, you can unlock your potential for faster, injury-free miles on the road or trail.

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