Improve Your Cadence to improve efficiency and reduce injury risk

by Steve Lisk. 20th March 2021

When you first start running you`ll find that you make huge gains purely by being consistent as well as increasing the frequency and quality of your training.

Over time, however, you might also benefit from tweaking your running technique, though trying to change this without an expert on hand can be tricky.

One thing you can work on easily by yourself is your running cadence - the amount of steps you take in a minute. Most running watches monitor this for you, and the aim is generally to increase your cadence to improve efficiency and also reduce injury risk.

Based on studies of elite runners, ideal cadence is around 180 steps per minute (or about 3 steps per second). I know, you`re thinking "but I`m not an elite runner". However, this number is helpful for beginner runners as well, as you increase your cadence, your body will naturally fall towards proper running form. A faster turnover forces a shorter stride, so that feet stay underneath the body as opposed to overreaching stride (loping) common with slower cadence. With a slower cadence, you are wasting more energy vertically by "bounding" where more energy should go towards horizontal momentum. This over striding leads to landing on your heels (heel striking) which sends shock waves up your legs and can lead to all types of injuries. By concentrating on a higher cadence, you should tend to shorten your stride, stay light on your feet, low to the ground and in an upright position leaning too far forward reduces your legs freedom of motion and slows cadence.

To determine your current cadence, (if your running watch doesn`t tell you) and to work on gradually increasing your turnover, try this exercise next time you are out for one of your workouts.

Choose a smooth, flat surface. After warming up and during one of your run intervals, count the number of times your right foot hits the ground in 60 seconds. If you multiply this by 2, you will have your cadence double to account for both feet).

Next, repeat the same exercise, running for 60 seconds and again counting the number of times your right foot hits the ground. This time though, try to increase the number of right foot push-offs by 1-3 steps. Follow up with a slow recovery jog or walk before repeating the exercise again.

Do this two to four times in total. Each time you run, try to continue increasing your push-offs by 1-3 counts until your no longer running comfortably. At that point, back off the cadence and if you have any repeats remaining, maintain the number that allowed you to stay relaxed while still using a faster turnover. Do this exercise one or two times a week to help your body get used to running at a higher cadence. Don`t try to get your cadence up to the ideal of 180 in one session - or even at all. It can take 1-3 months to feel comfortable at 180, but after 2-4 weeks of increasing cadence just a little bit, it should feel more natural.

As with all training plans slight gradual increases will help your body reset its running metronome at a faster beat over time.

 Please let me know how you get on.

Steve Lisk