About 2 years ago I attended a coaching symposium put on by Newton Running Company in Southwest Oklahoma.
Throughout the classroom portion of the course I had been glued to the instructors, hanging on their every word. Not because my form was bad, no obviously I wasn’t a “heel-striker”, but I was incredibly anxious to start helping others run better!
When it came time for my videotaped gait analysis I was excited to see how good I looked…assuming they’d pause the video and use me as the textbook example.
Okay, there I am . . . and . . . wait . . . no, that can’t be right.
I was the textbook example of a heel striker. I looked just like everyone else! Landing in front of my body and putting the brakes on with every step. Unbelievable. Two weeks away from running the New York City Marathon and an expert tells me that my running form is bad and my mechanics need a lot of work.
How do I fix it?
Being so close to a race, what should I do? I approached one of the instructors and asked this very question. I fully expected him to say that I should proceed as I always have and start a slow transition to Natural Running when my race was over.
Wrong again. He explained that nothing good can come from bad form and that I should start working on improving my gait immediately.
Then he said to focus on increasing my cadence.
Finding the Right Running Cadence
Our bodies are happiest somewhere between 175 and 185 beats per minute (bpm), so that is what we should aim for. But every person and every gait is different, so your “happy place” might be slightly different than mine. But not by a whole lot.
How Do I Know What My Cadence is Right Now? Easy.
- Go run and for 1 minute count the number of times your left foot (or right) hits the ground. It should be near 90. If it isn’t then you are increasing your risk of injury and you aren’t as efficient as you could be.
- Our cadence determines where our foot lands in relation to the rest of our body. If your cadence is slow and sticky then your foot is probably landing in front of your body. This is counterproductive.
- If your cadence is quicker (the way your tendons want it) then you will land closer to underneath your body’s center of mass and that is much more efficient.
Remember, cadence and speed are not the same thing. I had a tough time wrapping my head around this at first, but the explanation that made it clear was this one: If I am running in place at 180 beats per minute I am going 0 miles per hour. Ah ha!
How Do I Increase My Cadence?
- Download a Metronome App. You know those things that people use to keep the beat when playing an instrument? You can download a free one and set it to 176 bpm or you can pay about .99 cents to have one that can be set to 180 bpm. Either way is fine as it is not really finding the perfect number that is important, but rather having some assistance increasing your turnover and shortening the steps.
- Try to mimic this quick cadence while you run. This is a remarkable way to improve your efficiency and reduce your risk of injury. The increased cadence will help get your landing under you, instead of out in front.
All by itself, increasing my cadence helped me run the NYC marathon, 100% pain free. Don’t misunderstand me – I still had A LOT of work to do, but my form was improved enough to reduce the stress on my body considerably.
Okay, so you may be wondering . . .
How Do I Increase My Cadence Without Increasing My Speed?
Try the treadmill. I hate the treadmill, but try it anyway. Run on the treadmill while you listen to the beat of the metronome. By using the treadmill you can control the speed. This allows you to concentrate on quickening your steps to match the beats on the metronome without overdoing the pace.
I always like to remind people to not be drawn into the display on the treadmill though. Dropping your gaze down to take in all that wonderful data is terrible for your posture. You should be nice and tall with your gaze forward, not down.
Take Action: Focus on Increasing Your Cadence
- Download any metronome app, or just borrow one from the nearest musician (but those can be kinda bulky).
- Set it anywhere from 170-185 bpm and start experimenting with finding your sweet spot.
- Try listening to the beats while controlling the speed on the treadmill or with a watch that gives you pace info.
- Still injured? Think about getting your mechanics evaluated by a professional.