Questions and answers about running cadence
Q: What is running cadence and what should we know about it?
A: All gurus of running biomechanics across the world see running cadence as a means to reduce the incidence of injury and run faster. Many scientists have analyzed these concepts. It has recently become a very fashionable topic among runners.
Q: Is 180 steps/minute the ideal cadence for runners?
A: Indeed, it is around 180 (+/- 10). However, the ideal cadence is specific to each and every one. If you want to know your ideal cadence, take your shoes off and run for a certain period of time on a hard surface (e.g. pavement).
Q: Does running speed have any influence or should the same cadence be maintained regardless of speed?
A: Speed does influence cadence (cadence increases with speed) but such increase is 10 times less important than increases in step length. Furthermore, the optimal cadence for any running speed is almost always +/- 10 above or below your average cadence, whether you’re jogging (10 km/h) or actually running (20 km/h for athletes). It must be noted that walking and sprinting biomechanics are different!
Q: Can most international elite runners keep a cadence of 180?
A: They can manage 170 and above. Interestingly, most of them run at 180 (+/- 10) regardless of the event distance (from 1,500-meter events to marathons)!
Q: From a performance standpoint, what are the benefits of increasing cadence to 180 steps/min?
A: On the short-medium term, increasing cadence by 3-4% reduces O2 consumption and improves performance in a majority of runners. On the long term,
Q: How can this help in reducing injury risk?
A: Increasing cadence will reduce loading on the knees, hips and lower back. It may also reduce the vertical loading rate of the ground reaction force (linked to injuries in the scientific literature).
Q: How can a low cadence be harmful to a runner, both injury- and performance-wise?
A: Recreational runners showing a lower cadence (140 to 160 steps/minute) are more likely to increase braking forces at foot strike (secondary to overstriding), increase the heel striking angle, the vertical loading rate of the ground reaction force, etc.
Q: Is it difficult to retrain cadence?
A: No, a majority of runners will be able to modify cadence relatively easily. Voluntarily taking shorter steps or matching steps with a beat will often do the trick. Running barefoot or with minimalist shoes (Minimalist Index > 70%) will also help in maintaining a higher cadence. However, caution must be taken to transition to such footwear gradually, by adding only one minute at a time!
Q: Anything else on cadence?
A: The average cadence of barefoot runners is 180 (+/- 10). However, among recreational runners wearing maximalist shoes (Minimalist Index < 50%), the average cadence is 155. Another interesting aspect to be considered is that cadence of recreational runners has significantly decreased over the last 30 years! Are big bulky shoes to blame?