One Pearl of Wisdom for Runners: Cadence
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Published on June 13, 2019

female runner showing stride in sequence

One Pearl of Wisdom for Runners: Cadence

The Internet is chockful of blogs and tips for distance runners. You can find everything from “the top five ways to improve your running experience” to “the three key things you should do to train yourself to run longer” to “the absolute 11 things every newbie runner should know.”

And while each list is most assuredly filled with nuggets of insight, my goal, as director of Avera Sports Sciences, is to provide you with one – just one – pearl of wisdom that can revolutionize, revitalize and perhaps even resuscitate your running experience.

So, what it is? What’s the one thing every runner, whether fresh off the couch or prepping for his or her 12th marathon, should endeavor to ace?

In one word … cadence.

Why is cadence the one thing, to manage, manipulate and master? A lot of good things happen when you get – and keep – your cadence in the sweet spot. In short, it all comes down to the length of your stride, and more particularly, avoiding the (very common) mistake of over-striding.

The speed at which you run is a factor of stride length and stride frequency: if you increase one or both you’ll end up running faster. However if you end up OVER-STRIDING, that is, landing too far out in front of you, then the knock-on effect is your stride frequency, i.e. your turnover, actually DECREASES. And that’s when all the bad stuff happens.

So by managing your cadence you can go a long way toward avoiding the three most common bio-mechanical flaws in distance runners, flaws which are linked to many a running-related ailment.

Over-striding—a low cadence gives rise to over-striding, whether a heel or forefoot striker. And over-striding leads to increase impact when your foot hits the ground. Ideally you should land no more than 8 inches in front of your center of mass.

Bounce—linked to over-striding, too much bounce contributes to the excessive impact at foot-strike. As well, wasting energy going up and down vs. straight ahead negatively impacts your running economy, which is a major factor in running performance. If you’re moving up and down more than 3 inches that’s too much and you’re not efficient.

Compliance—ever heard of lateral pelvic drop…or see someone run who is knock-kneed? Compliance essentially means “collapse” and too much collapse at the hip and/or knee can lead to both hip and knee pain. A knee valgus angle or pelvic angles can be determined from a professional stride analysis and values that are either excessive or not symmetrical from the left to right side can be problematic.

As you can see, the one little measure of how many times your foot hits the ground in a minute has some serious impact (pun intended). Stride cadence is very individual and there is no one cadence that is ideal for every person. However, what is generally accepted is that a stride cadence ranging 170-180 total contacts per minute (85-90 contact per side per minute) seems to get you close to where you should be.

How to achieve this rate? Many of today’s high-tech watches do a good job of tracking cadence—you just have to know your watch well enough to find it. If you’re like me and don’t have a super-fancy watch, instead, next time you’re out on a run, keep track for 30 seconds every time your right foot hits the ground: if your right foot doesn’t make contact with the ground at least 43-45 times in 30 seconds then you know it’s not hitting the ground 85-90 times in a minute … which if you multiply by 2 (even I can do that math in my head) means you’re not in the 170-180 range. So there’s your one tip blog!

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