That cadence question

An interesting article in RW this month questions whether we are risking injury by basing our performance on those of the elites.

We often see quoted the figure that we should run with a cadence of 180footfalls/minute as this is the most efficient method, a fact borne out by studies of the top runners at distances from 800m to marathon and beyond. But if you take into account that the slowest of these runners will be doing approx 5.45min/mile, this means they will be footstriking a little over 1000 times per mile. If you are taking twice that time per mile, you are perforce striking the ground 2000 times to cover the same distance. Multiply that up over any distance and that is a lot of footstrikes. An extra 27,000 over a marathon. If the theory of increased cadence is to reduce the force of the footstrike to reduce injury, does that still bear up if you are doing 27,000 more footstrikes? If the increased cadence is to prevent overstriding, is there a point where you are travelling so slowly that you are, in fact, understriding?

Meb Keflezhig runs with a cadence of aroun 203. He also runs more than twice as fast as me and is a good six inches shorter than me.

19 Replies

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  • I'm interested in the cadence issue too. I think mine is naturally about 150 ish, I think that's up from 120 when I first started running. I think we each have to work within our natural parameters, I have very long legs, and I've noticed higher cadence does not necessarily equal faster speed. When I was swimming, the "Holy grail" is 60 strokes per minute, I never got above 52 with my great long monkey arms, and likewise faster strokes made for shorter distance per stroke and just wore me out...All those extra strikes must wear your shoes out faster too....

  • Good point Rig - I think that sounds very logical

    We often tend to take the top runners as example, forgetting that we are not Kenyan or Eritrean running (running to win and to run away from poverty) from a very early age ...

    Have been looking at various coaching plans, most of them are geared towards professional athletes, not middle-aged women - ad men - that started running to get a bit fitter :) - So even if the principles are valid for everybody - it's to each person to adapt to their situation ,

    How are ribs getting on?

  • I was thinking about cadence as well this weekend after reading an article on rw, not sure whether it was the same. It mentioned that if your cadence is 160 or less there us a good chance you are overstriding....again I wondered whether this doesn't depend ln your stride length in the first place? I tried to check my cadence again on sat and I can't see how I can get beyond 160 unless I am sprinting. I don't feel I am overstriding, but really can't judge whether my feet land below or in front of my body as I can't see myself! So I think I will just carry on as comes natural and not worry too much. Otherwise it just takes all the fun out of it.

  • I am by no means fast (having only just broken through to sub 30 for 5k, but I do find that the higher cadence feels easier for me. I ran a hm at the weekend and found that when I was getting tired, upping my cadence made things easier.

    When I run recovery runs, my cadence drops markedly.

    It is all very interesting!

  • I find it really interesting. After running with timed BPM drumbeats a few times over the last few weeks, I've come to the conclusion that my natural comfortable cadence is between 170 & 175bpm. That doesn't mean I'm fast but if I run less than that, I really struggle. I'm about 5'2" so maybe my little legs need to turnover faster just to keep moving!

    I tried the Speed podcast a few weeks ago for the first time and it was HARD! I just couldn't run to 155 and 160 bpm without increasing my stride length, which I couldn't maintain for more than a few strides! Gave up and just ran my natural cadence then sped up for the faster intervals. I now use the said drumbeats for my Speed workouts!

  • Hi Rignold - interesting post, and as Pigivi mentioned, hope the ribs are mending too...

    Just to quote you back to yourself:

    If the theory of increased cadence is to reduce the force of the footstrike to reduce injury, does that still bear up if you are doing 27,000 more footstrikes? If the increased cadence is to prevent overstriding, is there a point where you are travelling so slowly that you are, in fact, understriding?

    To answer the last point first, from what I understand, I'm not sure its possible to understride - wouldn't you have to land your foot behind your body and be going forward? I think I would call that falling over :)

    Personally, I can see that for me there is a direct relationship between cadence and speed (if I hit 176 steps per minute, I get around 5:30 per kilometre, if I move out to 156 it goes to something like 6:30). I believe that the idea of faster turnover is to reduce the chance to overstride, because you simply won't have enough time to reach your leg too far forward in front of your body before you have to take your next step.

    I also think that the reduction in the force of the footstrike is because of this - by moving your legs quicker as required, it's very hard to drive your leg hard into the ground in the time available, which leads to a higher chance of being lighter on your feet.

    My opinion (and it is nothing more than that) is that this is the key difference between Mo Farah and myself (yes, and I have more hair, I know :) - I think professional runners would have to exert quite a lot of force in that moment of contact to achieve a 2 metre stride and not overstride. It's the only way I can explain to myself how Mo is still quicker than me although we can achieve similar turnover.

  • Great post Rig.

    It is a very complex issue and there certainly isn't a 'one size fits all' solution. Impact forces will vary a lot for two random amateur runners even if cadence is similar depending on our size, weight and running style and me trying to model myself on an elite runner just doesn't make sense.

  • Generally the people at the top level of sport will have an important combination: unshakable willpower, genetic superiority and intelligent coaching. Also they usually have quite well-funded masking agents in their drugs.

  • Best I can manage is about 155 on average. I'm not fast and that seems to suit me - can't imagine building to 180, let alone more. I'm a great believer in doing what feels natural.

  • Fascinating... I read all of that and realised I didn't understand a word of it. After the second time I think I'm getting it..is this about how far you stride out?? So what is your suggestion, I'm not clear?

  • Sorry if this is a daft question , but how do I find out what my cadence is ? xxx

  • Hi Poppypug - the cheapest way is to count how many times your foot hits the ground over a period of time. The way I would do it is: at some point during my run wait for my watch to get to :00 or :30, then count steps for 30 seconds and multiply by two. I would do this say every 10 minutes during a run...

    You can get technology (like foot pods) that do this for you, but if you are on a budget it's good old fashioned counting.

    What I do for the 30 seconds is stick a finger out from my lightly balled fist every time you get to 10 as i find it easier that way not to lose count...

    Hopefully I've not made that sound overly complex - Laura already does counting, but she stops at 4 (as in 1, 2, 3, 4) during the post-c25k podcasts. You just need to keep going(!)

    Hope that helps,

    Andy

  • Brilliant !

    Thanks for that Andy , yes I understood that perfectly ! :-) xxx

  • I actually find it a lot easier to count my rms going back and forth rather than my footfalls per se.

  • I used to count my arm movement too, but I recently realised that my arms are not always swonging at the same cadence as my legs. This came as a surprise as I had always been convinced that my legs and arms were swinging at the same cadence. It feels like they are, but in fact it is not so always in my case. :)

  • Following this post I did an experiment on my run last night, where for the 5th km I did the first 0.5 fewer strides but almost bounding in length, last 0.5km normal, some might say semi-mincing, faster cadence shorter stride.

    I didn't want to do the first km because I am full of energy, hence the 5th km.

    I found the bounding and the mincing were similar on time but the bounds took much more effort.

    So from this completely scientific research I would also suggest that a faster cadence is more energy efficient....

  • so if you are going out for your long slow run at, let's say, 12mins/mile, and you are running 180 footfalls/min, and then decide to do a sprint finish: are you increasing yor footfalls to 360/min or doubling your stride?

  • Hi Rigs,

    If I was going for 12 minute miles, I wouldn't be going at 180, it would have to be something like 156 to 164 (for me) - 180 is top speed with small steps = approx 5:30 minute kilometres out to possibly 6:10 depending on incline and how tired I was.

    Slow runs would necessitate a slower cadence - I couldn't take much smaller steps - so not too much effort to exert at all equals an easy (or easier) run.

    I also think this is a reason why Laura promotes the whole small steps - you barely flex your leg, so there isn't as much that can go wrong. When I do hill intervals, there is much more leg lift and drive, and I've also noticed when I'm more fatigued that a sprint finish can result in twinges/strains which I don't usually feel, possibly also influenced by the larger range of motion I am attempting to achieve.

    If I was trying to sprint from a fast run (so I was already operating around 180 footfalls), then I wouldn't try to increase cadence - I had to work up to 176-180 very consciously, and I don't think I could sustain a faster footfall for any length of time. It would be increased effort/push off for a slightly longer stride. Slightly longer may only mean something like 5cm...

  • I was reading up on cadence and "slower-pace" and the two really don't work especially if you are tall like me. I run with a metronome app on my phone and have "played" with cadence now and again and find it very difficult (almost impossible) to maintain anything much higher than a 170 cadence with a slow pace. If I tried to increase my pace towards 180 it would be more effort on foot turnover which I couldn't maintain.

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