Guest Article supplied by: Dan Chabert
Writing from Copenhagen, Denmark, Dan is an entrepreneur, husband and ultramarathon distance runner. He spends most of his time on runnerclick.com and he has been featured on runnerblogs all over the world.
Running is an incredibly repetitive sport. Literally speaking, all we do is propel ourselves in a generally forward direction by putting one foot in front of the other. If we do this successfully – if we move ourselves from Point A to Point B – then we can claim success and label ourselves certifiably as “runners.”
The tricky thing about running, however, is that there is more to our sport than what meets the eye. More specifically, precisely how we put our feet in front of each other in our attempts to propel ourselves forward, or even more specifically still, how many times our feet hit the ground over a given period of time, can determine the likelihood of our staying healthy and injury-free and, therefore, our long-term ability to run.
When we talk about the number of steps runners take over a given period of time, we are referring to a runner’s cadence. More often than not, cadence is measured by determining the number of steps (or strides) over a 60-second interval. As runners, it’s important that we are aware of our cadence because it can give insight into our injury propensity. You might say that our cadence holds the key to helping stay healthy and injury-free.
Most runners think that 180 steps per minute (spm) is the magic cadence value for which they should strive, but many of us likely don’t know why. The 180 value, passed down since the 1984 Olympics, wherein running coach Jack Daniels conducted a study on elite athletes and determined that only 1 out of 46 professional runners had a cadence that was lower than 180 spm, is akin to gospel in the running community. As it turns out, there was more to Daniels’ study than what has been popularized (and consequently, misinterpreted and misquoted).
Typically speaking, the higher your cadence is, the less likely you will be to suffer from over striding maladies like shin splints. A lot of things affect cadence, including the terrain you’re running on (smooth pavement versus technical trail, for example), as well as your stride length, making 180 a not-so-golden number to strive for in every single run. The higher you can go, though, generally speaking, the better-off you’ll be.
Here are some ideas about how you can increase your cadence:
- know your base. Realistically speaking, it’s hard to improve if you don’t know what your original values are in the first place. Before you try to increase your cadence, go for a run for a few minutes. While you’re running, count how many strides one foot takes – how many times one foot hits the ground – in 30 seconds. Once you have this value, double it to account for the number of times your foot hits the ground in 60 seconds. After you have this value, double it again to account for your other foot. Bear in mind that where you do this initial test run will greatly influence your starting values.
- …and let technology re-assess you periodically. Aside from counting your steps while running, consider incorporating some technology to streamline the task for you. A GPS-enabled watch that comes with a built-in accelerometer or a metronome both can measure your cadence on each run, therefore giving you great feedback at the end of each running session. It can be both overwhelming and helpful to have this type of data available, however. At any rate, you’ll be able to detect trends over time regarding your cadence – such as the differences in various types of runs and on roads versus trails – and you’ll be able to see if and how you’re progressing over time.
- trust the process. For some people, increasing their cadence makes them feel like they’re running differently than they usually do, and it might not feel as “natural” initially. Just like with running in general, it’s better to err on the conservative side and take things slowly, trusting the process as you go along. Consider even only a 5% increase in your cadence when you begin.
- go in-step with the music.Many people enjoy listening to music or podcasts while they run to relieve boredom or to entertain themselves, but they can also be great tools while you’re working on your cadence. Try it out, and you might find that you move your feet to the rhythm of the music, subconsciously or consciously, which can help to increase your turnover and cadence. Several websites feature songs and list their beats per minute to correspond with your desired steps per minute, too.
While part of the beauty of our sport lies in its simplicity, there is more to it than meets the eye. Getting our feet on the ground, over and over again, one foot in front of the other, is obviously critical, but how many times our feet hit the ground each minute also plays a huge role in our running success.
Note from irunningtips webmaster –
- Steps per minute refers to speed of turn-over of each foot = RPM (revolutions per minute).
- Stride = length of each step (distance).
- Number of steps and stride length vary with terrain changes.