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I Am A Runner Part Two - Cadence
Published on 06 March 2017 by Daniel Apostol, updated on 02 May 2017
Hello again dear runner,
I started by briefly introducing you to the complexity of running with the last blog, but this is what I will try to do further today and hopefully educate you even more about running. Today's topic, as promised, will be cadence.
First off, what is cadence? Here you have the definition of cadence ’Cadencein sports involvingrunningis the total number of 'revolutions per minute' (RPM), or number of full cycles taken within a minute, by the pair of feet, and is used as a measure of athletic performance.’
What does that actually mean? In simple English this means how many steps you take per minute, when running.
Ok, so what’s your cadence at this point? The ‘safest’(but you may contradict me, and you will probably be right) running cadence happens to be 175-182 for the majority of runners out there but the range can vary 20+/- so don’t get too caught up on this being an absolute number when retraining cadence. It may be that for you the perfect cadence is 165 or 190. But if you are in pain and you have knee, tibia, hip or foot discomfort or pain due to ITB syndrome, PTFJ (patello-femoral joint) pain, a tibial stress fracture, metatarsalgia, or feel like something isn't right and your cadence is for example 160, then try increasing it by 7%-10% (not too difficult!) - and the loading will decrease up to 18-20% and should help.
How do I increase my cadence? You do shorter steps and more per minute (it will feel strange when you try it for the first time!). When you are retraining your cadence, if that’s the right treatment/injury prevention for you, start small (1-2 minutes in the first week, progress to 5 in the second week, 10 the third and so on, until you can sustain your new cadence for all your run) and in a control environment (a treadmill/a track- not on the street where you have cars, pedestrians, bicycles, etc). A higher cadence (more steps per minute) will allow you to engage the glutes more - step length will decrease - the foot is on the ground more times and the impact force is less. As your steps are shorter then you will have to tap in to your motor control. More awareness, more coordination. Then as you run faster (we know that increase in cadence will increase slightly your speed) and your step length remains the same (shorter) - the demand on your glutes is higher- therefore you engage them more! So make sure you throw into your routine some glute and hamstring strengthening exercises - please don’t further stretch them though (you will find more about strengthening and injury prevention in the following posts.)
If you take longer steps - that will influence how much you go into hip adduction. If you reach your foot really far out that will influence how much you can engage the gluteus medius and maximus, and how much force they can generate. And as a result you are not able to control your hip adduction and contralateral pelvic drop (in English: your waist line is not straight when you run and tilts downwards, e.g. when you are on your right foot, the waist line on the left side should stay straight as the one on the right side, but if you have a pelvic drop the left side waist line will drop when you have your right foot on the ground.)
I mentioned that your speed will increase slightly, and we know if the speed increases then the step width will increase to. Therefore with the increased cadence you micromanage your cross-over gait (cross-over gait is when you run on the same line, not with the feet parallel. I will tackle this subject more in a further post), your knee loading errors, and the vertical oscillation and the increase in knee flexion (you will land more ‘underneath you’ with a more vertical tibia (which we talked a little bit in part 1).
And if we are talking about speed maybe it’s a good thing to mention that if you run slow you are susceptible to knee injury - your stance time (foot on the ground) is longer, you flex more the knee (increase the load on your knee) and you have more cumulative loads. And if you run faster - you are loading more around your ankle and calf structure, that can make you susceptible to Achilles injury, plantar fasciopathy, etc.
Why is this important? Well, it shows us different levels of loading, at different speeds, on different body parts. And again why is that important for you? Well if you have knee pain/ache you will know that you have to increase your speed in order to change the loading from your knee more to your ankle level, and vice versa, if you have aches/and pain of the plantar fascia level or Achilles you just have to decrease your speed to change the load more higher up the chain.
Please be aware that everything we discuss here has general character and won’t apply to everybody. And everyone needs a tailored approach to their condition or their running errors. Everybody is different and even an individual with the same condition have different levels of success with treatment.
Two more things about cadence and we are there.
What’s your head position when running (I know, right?) The increase in cadence can increase flexion in your cervical spine - the increase flexion in your cervical spine will help you to engage your flexors easier. However we want more extensor engagement (remember higher demands on your extensors with the newly increase cadence).The simple cue offered here is just to hold your head straight (don’t let it flex, or bend forward) and help engage your extensor. This is because you will need them with your increase in cadence (increase in cadence will demand more extensor activation - gluts, hamstring, erector spinae.)
The upper cervical spine has a tremendous input in the vestibular system. And the head position will provide a rich feedback to it (and I will stop here with neurology, because it’s not our subject for today).
Music and cadence - Are you listening to music when you are running? Music will change your cadence depending on how many beats per minute in the song. Your instinct will be to match that song cadence. So if it’s a slow cadence song you will not hit your target. This is why it’s important to have music with the right tempo when your running, so you will aim for the right cadence that you need. The problem with that is in order for you to have a song that has 180 cadence - you will probably have to listen to daft punk or some other fast bpm song. My advice for you, if you want to retrain cadence try at the beginning to use less music, or metronome (it can drive you crazy, after 3-5 km).
Hopefully I managed to raise awareness regarding the importance of cadence, and the role that cadence plays in running economically.
For a one to one session with Daniel to find out how to improve your running, just give us a call for an appointment.