Are you a runner looking to improve your stride efficiency and form? Cadence training is an evidence-backed method to address turnover rate and possibly reduce injury risk.
What is it?
Cadence refers to the number of steps per minute (SPM) taken. There are several biomechanical factors associated with increasing turnover frequency, many of which are associated with improved running form and decreased risk of stress-related injuries. Cadence training is becoming more popular in the running community secondary to the technological advancements in smartwatches and activity monitors reporting the metric.
With a lower cadence, runners tend to overstride and heel strike, increasing peak impact forces through the foot and ankle complex. Excess time is also spent in the stance phase due to the initial foot placement, delaying advancement to the swing phase. Over time, these effects accumulate additional stress through the body. While only a difference in seconds spent in the stance phase, this additional loading can predispose a runner to increased injury risk, as well as decreased efficiency. Conversely, cadence training yields the benefits of lower peak impact forces and decreased stride length. This ultimately lowers contact time with the ground and promotes rapid advancement to the swing phase. Evidence suggests cadence training promotes a midfoot strike, as well. Depending on an individual’s form and injury history, an adjustment to foot placement may increase efficiency and lower risk associated with excess heel striking. The ideal number for runners has been proposed to be roughly 170-180 SPM. Recreational runners average 155, while higher-level athletes near 170 SPM.
Is it right for you?
Should you strive to alter running cadence? Learning your baseline is key prior to intervening with cadence training. If you achieve 175-180 SPM already, there is likely no need to increase your stride frequency. However, if you have a lower turnover around 150-165 SPM, training this aspect of your running will optimize your turnover efficiency. Additionally, if you consistently battle running injuries, reducing the loading forces per step will potentially minimize risk of stress-related injuries. An increase of 5-15% has been associated with reduced knee pathology, muscle damage, and impact loads.
It is crucial to recognize running form is multifactorial and highly individualized. Step frequency is only one of the many characteristics potentially suitable for intervention. For example, a runner can average 160 SPM and already achieve their optimal form due to biomechanical and muscular factors. SPM is evaluated in the context of strength, body type, foot strike pattern, and many other facets of form. We recommend a gait analysis with a health professional to best determine if you might benefit from a form of cadence training. If you are in New York City, come see us in Union Square!
Evidence for it
Aside from the biomechanical adjustments detailed above, cadence training can enhance your overall efficiency. Several studies detail the positive effects of increasing turnover rate on running economy – the oxygen consumption required for maintaining a given pace. According to Tartaruga et al., as much as 28% of the variability in running economy amongst athletes can be attributed to cadence. Due to a decreased heart rate and oxygen consumption associated with increased turnover (via regimented training), the overall energy cost associated with a given run is minimized. These researchers specifically implemented a training program as finite as 10 days to demonstrate running economy gains in female distance runners.
Just as recommended in running programs, ramping up too quickly and without proper guidance should be avoided. Immediately escalating step frequency by 20-30 SPM is too drastic for the body to benefit from. While technological advancements in smartwatches have made cadence training implementation more seamless, the accuracy varies in models. We recommend you work with a health professional to determine the optimal training program based on your specific goals. Not only will a gait analysis ensure that increasing turnover is right for you, a physical therapist can teach you specific cues to help your body adapt to a new pace in regimented increment aligned with your current running program. After an appropriate training period, they can also perform a follow-up gait analysis to confirm progress is being made.
Cadence training can be an asset to achieving your running goals, whether it be reduced injury risk or enhancing efficiency. First determining if it is appropriate for you is essential prior to undertaking a regimented approach. A gait analysis and individualized plan is the safest and most effective way to implement cadence training to ultimately enhance your running economy.
Hobara H, Sato T, Sakaguchi M, Sato T, Nakazawa K. Step frequency and lower extremity loading during running.Int J Sports Med. 2012;33(4):310–313. PubMed ID: 22383130 doi:10.1055/s-0031-1291232
Quinn TJ, Dempsey SL, LaRoche DP, Mackenzie AM, Cook SB. Step Frequency Training Improves Running Economy in Well-Trained Female Runners. J Strength Cond Res. 2019.
Schubert AG, Kempf J, Heiderscheit BC. Influence of stride frequency and length on running mechanics: a systematic review. Sports Health. 2014;6(3):210-217. doi:10.1177/1941738113508544
Tartaruga MP, Brisswalter J, Peyre-Tartaruga LA, et al. The relationship between running economy and biomechanical variables in distance runners. Res Q Exerc Sport 83: 367–375, 2012.