In a past two weeks I had a few opportunities to speak to a bunch of enthusiastic runners and physios working with athletes about running technique and how to make runners more efficient.
Personally I am very excited about the fact that we – humans – are so efficient at running long distances and long hours (though, it is a completely question if we are trained to do that at any given point), and the stand out feature installed in our bodies that help us to achieve that - our tendons. Think about having “springs’ in your legs that store elastic energy during each step when foot contacts the ground and releases it during the push-off. Free and sustainable energy source!
However, there are conditions when tendons aren’t using all of their potential. For runners, efficiency is lost with either low step rate or very high step rate (aka. cadence). The optimal cadence has been an area of debate for quite a while, but 180 steps per minute is suggested, as this step rate optimize elastic recoil in tendons, which literally means that at a given running pace tendons work more and muscles conserve energy. This number is backed by research studies measuring metabolic work when bouncing at various frequencies (Dean and Kuo, 2011). This number is also coming from the analysis and observations of elite runners and their naturally chosen cadence. However, by no means you have to be running exactly at 180, but if you stay somewhere close to that number, you are likely getting it right.
Above all, if you already have issues with running related injuries, like ITB friction syndrome, patellofemoral syndrome (i.e. anterior knee pain) or just want to more efficient, there is some evidence that increasing your cadence by only 10% can improve things that are causally linked to common running injuries (look at the slide above from the Running Workshop we presented recently).
Some runners adopt new/efficient running cadence very quickly, for other is takes more time and those changes cause even discomfort while new running form is become natural.
What is my approach to coaching athletes when it come to improving their cadence?
Know your cadence. In a middle of your run count how many steps you make in 20 or 30 seconds and you will have a good idea what is your “working” cadence per minute. GPS watches usually give Cadence for each kilometer split after you upload data to your account, just check it (photo above from Movescount)
Apps. Practice getting it right with various available apps that give you sound hints about your cadence.
Sprinting. Running fast will teach you to cycle legs much faster, because that is a physical requirement if you want to maintain the speed. I do recommend doing short 50 to 100 meter sprints (6 to 10 repetition) after your regular run, once or twice a week. Choose softer ground or grass. It is important that you concentrate on controlled and efficient running form while sprinting, rather that maximal speed you can achieve.
Running Drills. Simple and routine drills like running in one place, high knees and butt kickers also are useful to improve running cadence.