Have you heard about Cadence? Cadence has become big talk in the running community with the new technology that has come out in recent years. Many Garmin watches can give you a cadence calculation.
What is Cadence?
Cadence is the amount of steps that you take in a a min. Cadence is typically measured in steps per minute. Cadence and stride length determine how fast a runner is traveling. Stride length is more dependent on your height and body structure. Jack Daniels (famous running coach) made famous the theory that elite runners take 180 steps or more per minute. What often gets forgot is that he said “or more” meaning that there is variability among every person for what the perfect cadence number is.
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Why is Cadence Important?
Cadence can give you a general idea of how efficient you are as a runner. If you are closer to 180 it is more likely that you are running optimally whereas if you are closer to 130 it could indicate that you are wasting some energy and could be slowing yourself down.
Low cadence numbers could indicate that you are over striding. Over striding is inefficient. It happens when your leg is landing too far out in front of your body (center of mass) and primarily on your heel. If your foot is way out in front of you you have no choice but to land on your heel.
If your leg is straight and extended out in front of you when you land it will cause your knee to lock. Think if you were to stand and jump forward as far as you can. Would it be more comfortable to land with your legs straight on the ground or to bend your knees slightly to cushion the blow? This is the same principle with running. If your leg is too far out you can not safely cushion your landing.
How you can change your Cadence:
Your body learns things through repetition. If you have been running a certain way for years it will not automatically change after a few weeks. You have to train patterns. It takes a constant and thoughtful process to modify the way you run and when your body gets tired form breaks down and runners revert to learned patterns.
If you feel that your cadence is low or needs improving there are several steps that you can perform:
1) General speed work and strides. Doing strides (short quick bursts of running) one to two times a week can help improve your cadence. These will train your body to run faster and more efficiently. When you run faster your body has to pick up the cadence.
2) Bounding: Bounding is a drill that can help improve lower leg strength and stability. It also helps to mimic the running form. You want to drive off of your right leg forward and bring your left knee up to a 90 degree angle. Try to hang in the air for close to 1 second. Then land on the ball of your left foot with your knee bent to cushion the landing. Push off your left foot and repeat. Make sure to bring the knee to 90 degrees each time.
3) Mirror Running: You can also work on cadence visually by running in place in front of a mirror for a minute. Count each step on one leg. Try to land with knee bent. Since you are not moving you won’t be over striding and can focus on landing softly.
4) Mirror Plyometrics: In front of a mirror you can do double and single leg line jumps. Work on landing softly with knee slightly bent to cushion the blow . It should not be jarring your whole body. Very soft. This is for learning landing technique not building power.
5) Ladder or fast feet drills: Not only for sprinter these can help you to get mentally and physically training to get your foot back to the ground quicker. As a runner you want less hang time and more ground time. If you don’t have a ladder you can just to short quick feet strides or over and back line drills to get the motion down.
Monitoring Cadence in the future for success:
After doing some of these drills you can try to monitor your cadence on an easy run. If you have a metronome that can be set to 90 beats per minute you can do a portion of your run trying to make ground contact on each beep. If not just pick 1 minute segments and count your right leg every stride. See how close you are to 90 steps. Run a few more minutes and repeat. Make sure not to do it for an entire run to avoid overuse.
As with so many things Cadence could be a useful data in running. Make sure not to get carried away with worrying about your cadence. Don’t stress over being at a perfect 180. Everyone is different and different factors will contribute to cadence and running economy. As with anything make sure that you ease into trying something new. Changing your stride even a little will work different muscle fibers and can cause stress to the body. Don’t try to change al at once. Gradual progression is the best way to avoid injury. If you are a person that has had lower leg injuries you should consult with your physical therapist or specialist to determine if cadence monitoring is right for you.