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Why all the fuss about running cadence?

Author: Craig Payne
by Craig Payne
Posted: Oct 09, 2020
number steps

Within the running community there is often a lot of discussion and even obsession with the running form or technique with lots of opinion, lots of claims from guru’s with a lot of dogma and not a lot of science to support most of it. The views from the so-called experts and how a runner should actually run are quite variable and often contradictory, which could leave the average runner somewhat confused. There are many variables to the different running techniques such as how and where the foot strikes the ground and the position of the knee and hips. One that recently got a lot of attention was the cadence. The cadence is how fast the legs turn over, usually measured as the number of steps taken per minute.

There are a number of ways to determine the cadence and there are apps that can be used to determine the cadence. It is simply a matter of counting the number of steps the runner takes in a time frame and then standardizing that to one minute. There was recently an increasing trend advocating for runners to shorten their stride length and increase the rate that the legs turn over ie increase the cadence. The dogma was that if you can get the cadence to around 180 steps/minute then this is somehow an important way to reduce the risk for injury and increase performance. This cadence of 180 steps/minute180 steps/minute was popularized by the well-known running coach Jack Daniels. He based this on his observations of runners and their step rates at the 1984 Olympics. He widely promoted this as an ideal for all runners to strive for.

Since then, the research has shown that the cadence in runners is naturally quite variable with some as low as 150-160 and others just over 200 steps a minute. It does appear to be a very individual thing with no one ideal cadence. It does appear that each individual will probably have their own ideal cadence and this will vary between individuals. Shortening the stride length to increase the cadence does appear to have some benefits and that is supported by several studies, but what is not supported is increasing it to that mythical 180 that has been widely proposed. It can help with runners who are overstriding and teach them not to reach so far forward when running. It does appear to help runners who have problems with their knees as it can reduce the loads there, but it will however increase the loads in other places, so any changes is going to need to be done slowly, carefully and gradually.

What is most important for runners to understand is that this is highly individual and it is a matter of working out by yourself or with the aid of an experienced running technique coach what is best for you as the individual. One thing that has come out about all the hype around cadence is to not fall for the latest trend or guru and look for the more balanced and considered views.

About the Author

Craig Payne is a University lecturer, runner, cynic, researcher, skeptic, forum admin, woo basher, clinician, rabble-rouser, blogger and a dad.

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Author: Craig Payne
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Craig Payne

Member since: Aug 16, 2020
Published articles: 252

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