What is the Ideal Running Cadence?


Running is an activity that continues to grow in popularity, with many attracted to the health benefits that running has to offer.
Along with the physical and psychological rewards, there is also however a fairly high rate of injury associated with sport. It's estimated that nearly 56% of recreational runners, and possibly as high as 90% or individuals training for a marathon, will become injured each year. Recent research suggests one easy way that many people can improve their running mechanics, and potentially lower their injury risk, is by simply increasing their cadence. 
 
Benefits of a Higher Cadence

Cadence refers to the number of steps a runner takes over a set time period, usually noted as steps per minute. When running at a constant speed, an increase in cadence will naturally result in a decrease in stride length, or the distance between foot contacts. A study done in 2011 by Heiderscheit et al. found that runners who increased their step rate 5% to 10% above their preferred cadence were able to reduce loading forces on their knees and hips. The authors of the study concluded that the decreased energy absorbed at the knee and hip with the higher step rate was due to the foot making contact with the ground closer to the center of mass as a result of the runners taking shorter strides.

Overstriding, or landing with the foot far in front of the body, is believed to be one of the most common faults responsible for causing injuries in recreational runners. The farther the foot lands away from the center of mass, the greater the braking impulse will be through the leg, slowing forward momentum and resulting in a less efficient gait and a potentially higher injury risk. Increasing step rate can be an easy adjustment runners can make to optimize their mechanics and avoid overstriding
.
Controlling Joint Movement

A second variable relating to injuries examined in the Heiderscheit study was joint motion. There is growing evidence of an association between hip adduction, or movement of the hip towards the midline of the body, and running-related injuries like anterior knee pain and iliotibial band syndrome. The study showed that increasing cadence resulted in a decrease in hip motion in the frontal and transverse planes. The researchers also found that at the higher step rate runners displayed less peak knee flexion during the stance phase of the gait cycle. These changes in joint kinematics may be another possible explanation of how increasing step rate might be preventative for some injuries.

Of course, taking shorter strides means a runner would need to take more steps to cover a given distance, so the cumulative amount of forces absorbed by the leg over the course of a run may be the same regardless of cadence. Still, the authors suggested that the benefit of decreasing the magnitude of forces seen at an increased cadence would outweigh the effects of the increased loading cycles. Additionally, the decrease in energy absorption at the knee and hip with a faster cadence may also be useful for runners who are recovering from and injury and looking to return to their sport. 
 
Measuring Cadence

Before increasing cadence, a runner should first determine their current preferred step rate. This can be done by counting individual foot strikes. Cadence is usually listed as the number of steps both legs take per minute, so a simple method of figuring out that number is counting the number of landings the left or right foot makes over 60 seconds and then doubling that number. Individuals with GPS watches can also use devices like the Garmin Footpod that does the counting for you.

180 steps per minute (90 steps per foot) is often cited as the optimal cadence for good running form. This idea likely originated from long distance running coach Jack Daniels' observation that elite runners maintained this step rate regardless of their speed. While 180 steps per minute is a good benchmark to set for individuals who believe they might be overstriding, runners should consider increasing their cadence gradually in small, 5% to 10% increments, to allow themselves time to adjust and feel comfortable at faster turnover rates. 

contributed by James Speck, PT, MS

References

Heiderscheit BC, Chumanov ES, Michalski MP, Wille CM, Ryan MB. Effects of step rate manipulation on joint mechanics during running. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2011 Feb;43(2):296-302.

Noehren B, Hamill J, Davis I. Prospective Evidence for a Hip Etiology in Patellofemoral Pain. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2012 Dec 27.





Photo Credit: Josiah MacKenzie via Creative Commons License

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