A smooth action makes you a better runner. We look at the role cadence plays in finding the running technique that works for you.
Cadence is easy to neglect. Many runners are happy enough lacing on their shoes and heading out for a straightforward six mile run. Cadence can all seem a bit technical and something that should only really concern the very elite.
But cadence should be of interest to every runner of any standard. Why? Well, not just because they can become a better runner, they are also more likely to avoid injury. By improving cadence, we can all gain more fulfilment from running.
Yes, But What Is Cadence?
Put simply, cadence is the number of revolutions a runner makes per minute. Or the number of times your feet make one whole cycle of movement. In sports studies, cadence was more closely monitored in cycling and swimming with the benefits of good cadence most obviously linked to good performance.
There was less emphasis on cadence in running. Then a study by Jack Daniels (respected distance running coach, not the whisky distiller) at the 1984 Olympic Games found that the best distance runners averaged a cadence of 180 per minute and interest in the area rose.
Why Is it Important?
London-based Shaun Dixon is a Great Britain international fell runner and an England international cross country runner. He is also a coach who works with runners of all standards from beginners to competitive national-standard runners. He is a huge advocate of getting technique right.
He told runABC South: “I do a lot of technique training with newer runners and the vast majority of people who come to me without any formal coaching tend to over-stride. It’s very common. A lot of them land slap bang on their heel with an outstretched leg.
“Heel striking is not a bad thing, but over-striding is. Cadence is an important part of trying to get people to think about taking shorter steps and the position in which the foot strikes the ground in relation to their body.”
Less Is More
But surely common sense says that the longer the stride, the better (and quicker) you can cover the ground? Dixon dismisses the notion. “There is a great statistic around Mo Farah in the 5000m final at the 2012 Olympics. He took 224 steps to cover the last 400m, where your average person takes 164.
“It immediately shows that whilst these guys at the top might look as if they have an incredibly long stride, actually the amazing thing about them is the turnover of their feet.
“They are always landing just in front of their body or right underneath. It makes more of the natural elasticity of the muscle. Rather than landing and rolling over the foot it is springing off the ground in more effective positions.”
Are The Improvements Immediate?
Improved cadence is no magic trick, but with a better technique comes less likelihood of injury and therefore more opportunity to improve. Dixon says: “If you work on it as part of other important changes to your technique then it can be really effective. I’ve worked with a lot of people over a long period and I’ve got some guys that have taken 40 minutes off their marathon personal bests. That also comes with the training they are doing.
“If you can train in a way that prevents you from being injured, then you can train more. If you can train more consistently - you will improve.”
Where Do We Start?
Firstly, Dixon is dismissive of Jack Daniels’ 30-year-old assertion of 180 being the magic number for cadence. “That’s wrong,” he insists. “It was taken from a number of runners and 180 was the average, but there was a wide spread. Some were taking 200 and others 160 steps. It’s now been taken as gospel, but I think it’s too prescriptive.”
Instead he reckons people should not tie themselves to a number and simply concentrate on getting their own technique right. “I usually get people when they are out on their own to break a run down into a series of parcels. One of the focuses might be to try and lean forward a little more on their toes.
“Another focus might be to try and think about where they are landing and take much shorter steps. Another might be to make sure their arms aren’t up in front of them so they are leaning their body back.
“So on a half hour run, try and think about each of those for a small parcel of time. Rather than having to think about all these things at once, it’s easier just to break it down and eventually, it will hopefully change the way they run.”