When experts examine a runner’s technique they look several different variables including how the arms move, how the legs move, where the foot makes contact with the ground, how big a person’s strides are, how many steps a person takes in 1 minute etc. etc.
A recent study investigated the topic of how one can retrain a runner’s running technique as part of treatment for a variety of injuries. You can read the whole article for free here. Interestingly, it would seem that changing just one aspect of how someone runs may be enough to alleviate a whole hoard of problems.
Cadence or step rate can be defined as the number of steps a runner gives within 1 minute. The ideal step rate is currently seen as being somewhere around 180 steps per minute.
Why is this important?
Runners who have a slow step turnover (below 170 steps/min) tend to experience larger impact forces with each step they give, because their foot spends more time in contact with the ground than runners with a high cadence. This may contribute to injuries like medial tibial stress syndrome (shin splints) or plantar fasciitis.
A low cadence also allows the foot more time to go into over-pronation and may contribute to injuries like patello-femoral pain or tibialis posterior tendinopathy.
A slower step rate can also lead to over-striding while running which can cause knee and hamstring injuries.
How to find your step rate
1. You can simply count how many steps you give in one minute. or 2. Download a metronome app and adjust the metronome until it beeps in time with your steps.
How to safely increase your cadence or step rate
Experts seem to agree that it works best to increase your step rate by about 5% to 10% at a time. What I find difficult is to not increase my speed as I give quicker steps. A way around this may be to do your runs on a treadmill so that you can make sure that you run at a constant speed while trying to give quicker steps.
Use a metronome app on your phone and set it to your desired cadence or step rate. Say for instance my step rate is 145 steps per minute. A 5% increase would mean that I try to give 152 steps per minute.
Try to step/run in rhythm with the beat of the metronome.
Practice this step rate until you feel comfortable with it. You can then increase it by another 5% and repeat the process over several weeks until you reach the desired step rate.
Remember that you should not be increasing your running speed as you increase your step rate. You should be able to run at the same speed but just give more steps.
Other cues that may help you to give quicker steps are to give shorter steps or lighter steps so that you cannot hear your foot strike the ground.
Barton CJ, Bonanno DR, Carr J, et al. Running retraining to treat lower limb injuries: a mixed-methods study of current evidence synthesised with expert opinion. Br J Sports Med 2016;50:513-526.