Winter Running – A Focus on Cadence

Winter running- A Focus on Cadence by Beth Wightman

The winter is as good a time as any to check your running stride and make adjustments as needed. Race season is months away so you will have time to refine your stride before the spring, and keeping your stride neat and efficient can help prevent injuries through the winter months. One factor that can effect impact forces as well as running efficiency is your cadence, or in other words, the number of steps you take per minute. While taking 180 steps/min is generally thought to be the optimal cadence and is often what elite runners do, many recreational runners are closer to 145-160 steps/min. The reduced number of steps per minute means a longer a stride and a tendency towards “over striding”; meaning you will be landing with your foot farther in front of your body, creating a breaking force as you land. Increasing your cadence has been shown to reduce the impact force when the foot contacts the ground (Derrick et al 1998) and also reduce the amount of load that goes through the hip and knee with each step (Heiderscheit et al, 2011).
Checking your stride rate:
• Warm-up for at least 10 minutes, start your watch for one minute and count the number of times your right foot lands.
• Multiply that by 2 and you have your stride rate!
Increasing your stride rate, could be as simple as concentrating on leaning a little bit more forward through your trunk and thinking about landing with your foot under your body instead of in front of it. If that doesn’t work you could think about using a metronome to help you.
Increasing your stride rate with the help of a metronome:
• Download a metronome to your smartphone device or if you don’t have a smart phone a real metronome will work (though you might get some funny looks!)

iphoneappcadence• Start with a 5% increase in your stride rate- ie if your current stride rate is 160 steps/min set the metronome to 168 steps/min.
Try to land every time the metronome beeps, feel how your feet land and how your body feels when you do that, then turn the metronome off and see if you can maintain your new stride rate. Using a treadmill is good for this but dry flat ground outside will work too.
• It will likely take a few tries with the metronome before you are able to carry out the quicker stride rate without it on, but with practice you will be able to get it.

We don’t know for sure whether a faster stride rate will reduce injury rates in runners; we are eagerly awaiting the results of a couple of studies being done on this right now. But it makes sense that reducing your impact and load through the hip and knee are good things for injury prevention. As for running efficiency; having less braking force to overcome by increasing your stride rate should also be beneficial, as more economical runners show a reduced braking impulse vs. less economical runners (Williams and Cavanagh, 1987). So get out there, check your stride rate, and see what you can do to quicken it if you need to this winter!

1. Derrick TR, Hamill J, Caldwell GE. Energy absorption of impacts during running at various stride lengths. Med. Sci. Sports Exerc. 1998;30:128.
2. Heiderscheit BC, Chumanov ES, Michalski MP, Willie CM, Ryan MB. Effects of step rate manipulation on joint mechanics during running. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2011;43: 296-302.
3. Williams KR, Cavanagh PR. Relationship between distance running mechanics, running economy, and performance. J Appl Physio. 1987; 63:123×6-1245

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