My running journey began in a rather conventional way. Someone I know had gotten a burst of motivation, wanted to make a change, and signed up for a half marathon. Along the way they recruited some family members, and I jumped at the chance to tag along. I completed the miles on my training plan, never giving much of a second thought to injury prevention or cross training.
I had no knowledge of a running cadence, nor any desire to learn.
I started running more frequently, running longer distances, and looking for future races. But after finishing my first marathon I found myself unable to bend my right leg the following day. Unsure what was happening, I desperately tried to run through the pain until I finally ended up in physical therapy.
Thus began my journey with chronic running injuries.
From this point on, I struggled with injuries throughout my training. I wound up in physical therapy two times in one year, spending 6 months of that year completing strengthening exercises with my doctor. I couldn’t figure out what I was doing wrong – I ran consistently, took rest days, and stretched after every run.
What was I missing?
I finally started to take PT seriously the second time around. This time made me realize that if I didn’t change anything I might end up injured after every single race. I learned what a running cadence was, what the ideal cadence is, and how to increase your running cadence.
With a little due diligence and patience, I increased my running cadence.
This simple change to my running technique has allowed me to remain injury free for the past five years. Improving my running cadence has seen me through 6 marathons, 18 half marathons, and everything in between without injury.
How to Increase Your Running Cadence
It turns out that increasing your cadence is a miracle worker for preventing injury and helping increase your speed. Whether or not you struggle with the occasional runner’s knee, chronic injuries, or are just wanting to improve, every runner can benefit from perfecting their cadence.
What is a running cadence?
The term “running cadence” refers to the number of times your feet strike the ground in one minute. Your cadence is the total strikes between both feet and is measured in beats per minute.
A common misconception that new runners have is that a higher cadence equates to a faster runner. While a higher cadence does mean that the runner is striking the ground more often, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they are running faster. Depending on the length of your stride, your feet may come in contact with the ground very frequently or infrequently.
What is the “perfect” running cadence?
An ideal running cadence is 180 beats per minute.
This means that your feet come in contact with the ground 180 times each minute (90 strikes with your right foot, and 90 strikes with your left).
Determining your running cadence by counting your steps is nearly impossible, but luckily there are many tools we can use to easily discover and improve our running cadence. One of my favorites: a simple metronome app.
There are many free metronome apps on your phone, which you can download and use throughout your run. A metronome allows you to set the tempo to a variety of different speeds, and then gives you a consistent click at your designated tempo.
How do you increase your cadence using a metronome?
Since the ideal running cadence is 180 bpm, setting your metronome to 180 will give you a click each time your foot should strike the ground. You’ll want to start the metronome at the beginning of your run, and continue playing throughout. You can play the metronome out loud or through headphones while you run.
For the most accurate results, you’ll want to spend the first few weeks running only on the treadmill. Running on the treadmill prevents you from accidentally lengthening your stride and speeding up when you first increase your cadence.
Set the treadmill speed to your normal pace, start your metronome, and get running. During your run, aim to match your foot strike with the clicks from the metronome. One foot should strike the ground each time you hear a click.
Working to improve your running cadence can feel quite tedious, especially during those first few runs. If you’re like most runners, your cadence is likely significantly lower than 150. You’re probably taking longer strides than are ideal at your pace, which will require a bit of patience and diligent work as you begin increasing your cadence.
Start with just a short run each time, focusing on matching each step with the click of the metronome. You’ll likely be shortening your stride to maintain pace with the new cadence. After a week or so of successfully running in time with the metronome, take your runs outdoors and continue using the metronome.
It may take a while before your body adjust to this new running cadence, but once it does you’ll be able to run with a cadence of 180 without even thinking about it. The stride length and pace will feel completely normal.
When I began, my running cadence was around 150 bpm.
This was ridiculously low! Getting up to 180 took quite a bit of work, but after a few weeks I finally got the hang of it. Once it started to feel more natural I let myself run outside, keeping the metronome going in my headphones and focusing on shortening my stride and increasing my turnover.
Don’t get me wrong, it took quite a bit of work to get there. The runs were tedious, I got bored and often wanted to give up. But once I got started I could tell I was on to something – my muscles were much less tight after each run and my feet didn’t hurt at all. After years of struggling, my chronic running injuries were beginning to fade away.
Taking the time to improve your running cadence may feel like a tedious task, but spending the time focusing on this running technique now will pay off leaps and bounds in the future. This shorter stride will help you avoid heel striking and over-striding, two common causes of running injuries.
Your increased turnover will help you run faster with less work and keep you running strong in the long run. If there is one running technique that every runner should know, whether they’re an elite or beginner, it’s how to determine and improve their running cadence.
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