Recently there has been a shift in focus away from particular foot strike patterns relating to running injuries toward alterations in cadence. While this has been a positive initiative for many runners, foot strike patterns may still have relevance in treating specific injuries. However, altering cadence is something almost anyone can attempt and adapt to. Shifting foot strike patterns can be more difficult.
Cadence refers to a runner’s stride rate. Combining stride rate with stride length gives you your running speed. It has been suggested that a cadence of 180 strides per minute is optimum. However, in practical terms this is not relevant as cadence changes with running speed. For example an elite runner may do an easy run at a cadence of 170 and race a 10 k with a cadence over 200.
Novice runners tend to run at much lower cadences. Coupled with lower cadences is the tendency to overstride. Overstriding occurs when your foot contacts the ground in front of your centre of mass. This often coincides with heel striking.
So what are the benefits of running with a higher cadence? Research has indicated an increase in cadence can result in a decrease in force applied to the knee (patellofemoral joint) and hip when running. Most agree this is do the foot contacting he ground beneath the body’s centre of mass. The potential downside of this is an increase load to hamstrings and rectus femoris (quadricep) musculature.
To calculate steps/minute, count the number of times one foot strikes the ground for 30 seconds and then multiply this number by 4. Re-test number of times in various situations. If your cadence is consistently low (e.g., less than 160), try increasing your stride rate by 5-10%.
Remember, don’t get caught up in the absolute number relating to cadence. If you are struggling with injury or a novice, it may be worth altering your cadence by a small percentage and see whether it helps.