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Running Cadence, could this be the most important foundation to good running efficiency?

Not by any means have we cracked the cryptic code to unite us with the 'Nirvana' state of idyllic running performance, but we certainly promote cadence as being one of the more important areas to be investigating to improve running efficiency. 

Jack Daniels

Running Cadence (how many times both feet land on the ground within a minute) was first observed at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Games by the running coach Jack Daniels (Two-time Olympic medalist in the Modern Pentathlon and world-renowned exercise scientist. Named “The World’s Best Running Coach” by Runner’s World).
For decades before, both cyclists amd swimmers have long monitored their RPMs and swim strokes, but it was Jack Daniels who first observed 
the number of steps that Olympian runners typically took while competing based over a 1 minute period. All of them, male or female, short or tall, took close to 180 steps per minute (with the higher cadence recorded at the lower end of the distance range).  No runner was ever told to take between 180  steps per minute, and yet here were the best distance runners in the world all running with this remarkable pattern of synchronicity.

Cadence in a nutshell

testing cadence

Running cadence is simply how many times you feet make contact with the ground over a period of a minute. Think of it as your RPM (revolutions per minute). It's a bit like a car, yet a car performs better with low RPM, and we perform better with high RPM! Let us explain:

Lower cadence runners (slow RPM) will make less steps in a minute than a high cadence runner, which usually suggests longer steps out in front of your centre line of mass creating greater joint loading forces through your hip and knee. Typically with this longer 'stride length' you are more inclined to land on the back of your foot creating greater breaking forces through your heel bone (calcaneus). Your local running would be likely to point this out with their own unique in-store running analysis, but their remedy would more likely to be a prescription for a running shoe with ample amount of cushioning on the back of your heel to help absorb this energy. 

Higher cadence runners (high RPM) will make more steps in a minute than a low cadence runner, which suggests shorter steps closer to your centre line of mass which means a greater reduction in joint loading forces. Landing without an outstretched leg is more likely to have you land on your mid foot than heel which also promotes a reduction in breaking forces, thus improving running efficiency. It is of no coincidence that higher cadence runners need not run in shoes that have plenty of cushioning in the heel which means lighter running shoes. Certainly a treat for the feet if you're planning on running a marathon!

A summary

Despite so many different approaches as to how we believe we can technically run better, we think it starts with getting gravitational forces to work in our favour. (don't blame your running technique, think of it as gravity issues!)  If we've been advised to avoid 'heel striking' as a means to become a better runner, trying to 'manually' alter this initial contact with the ground can often trigger off other injuries and could make you look rather equestrian too!  Improving cadence (your natural RPM) appears to naturally migrate  your running form whilst reducing joint loading forces, which both together improves over all running efficiency. Running cadence should always be promoted on a 10% basis and only with drills of no more than 1 minute at first. In our lab, we have first hand evidence that it is possible to over perform cadence which can effect efficiency as a result. If you would like to know which cadence is best for you, please feel free to make an appointment.

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