What is the Ideal Cadence?

Running “cadence” or step rate is the total number of steps a runner takes per minute. Cadence is one of the most controllable risk-factors for injury yet it seems to me to be one of the most often overlooked. In my post on Video Gait Analysis I touched on the topic of how many steps a runner may take in a run and how running so many steps with faulty mechanics could lead to injury. For that reason, you might be thinking to yourself “more steps must mean more impact and therefore a greater injury risk”. However, the opposite is actually true!

A 2012 study by Heiderscheit et al in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise examined the relationship between cadence and loading of the hip and knee joints. They found that small increase in step rate actually reduced the amount of load on these joints. How can that be? Imagine that instead of running with your feet, you are clapping your hands. Actually go ahead and try it – clap your hands to a steady beat for one minute. Then for the following minute, try to fit in 10 more claps. You will notice that in order to fit in more claps, you have to decrease the amount of time your hands are in contact with each other. When a runner increases their cadence by 10 more steps per minute, they reduce the amount of time that their foot is actually in contact with the ground per step. Decreased ground contact time leads to less loading on the joints.

In a live presentation Dr. Heiderscheit gave this fall at the Mountainland Running Summit, he taught that a cadence of 166 steps per minute or less was linked with a much higher risk of shin injury that a cadence of 174/minute or greater.

If you are interested in finding out your current cadence, try this method: Settle into a comfortable pace on a treadmill for about 5 minutes. Keep your eye on the clock for one minute and during that minute, count the number of times your right foot hits the treadmill. Double that number and you have your cadence! If you find your self in that 166 or lower range, try increasing your cadence by an additional 10 steps per minute.

For a more comprehensive evaluation, in addition to assessing your cadence, reach out to Superior Running Medicine today to book a Video Gait Analysis.

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