By Smruti Shah
“Can I ward off running injuries by achieving a 180 cadence?”
The short answer is, possibly.
For decades, swimmers have counted their strokes and cyclists have monitored RPMs. It is relatively more recently that runners have started paying attention to their cadence, or stride rate. Cadence/stride rate is the number of strides taken per minute or how quickly your legs turnover with running. It is a function of speed (stride rate x stride length). At a fixed pace, a runner can increase their cadence and decrease their stride length. Since overstriding is one of the most common preventable running errors that we see in the clinic, a focus on stride rate may help runners improve their economy and, thus, decrease risk of injury.
The idea of 180 strides per minute (spm) can be traced back to Jack Daniels, one of running’s premier coaches, who observed that elite runners tend to have a stride rate of 180 spm or more. As mentioned before, cadence changes with speed unless stride length is adjusted equally. At various speeds, a cadence of 180 spm may not be ideal and, therefore, may not be the goal stride rate for every runner.
However, a 2011 study from the University of Wisconsin concluded that increasing stride rate by 5-10% decreased loading through the hip and knee joints and minimized excessive joint motion. This observation is promising from an injury prevention standpoint. Clients often ask how they can improve their form to prevent further injury. The results of this study support focusing correction cues on a small increase in stride rate, just 5-10%.
Try it out. Most GPS watches collect cadence data that you can see when you connect them to the computer. You can also manually calculate your normal cadence. In the middle of your next easy run, count the number of times your right foot hits the ground in a minute. Multiply by two and that is your stride rate. Try to increase that rate by 5-10% by using a metronome app on your phone or simply thinking about turning your legs over a little faster. For example, if your average stride rate is 170, set the metronome in the 178-187 spm range. The study did find that increasing cadence by more than 10% led to increased exertion and oxygen consumption. Practicing a slight increase in cadence may reduce the number of things to focus on when trying to improve form. If you suspect you overstride, focusing on slightly increasing your cadence may help correct your form and improve your running economy.
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Smruti Shah, PT, DPT is a Physical Therapist at Proaxis Therapy. She is a mom, wife, physical therapist, and marathon runner.