People often mention cadence when discussing proper running technique. What exactly does it mean?
Cadence defines the amount of steps runners take over a period of one minute. When evaluating running form, it is crucial to examine the patient’s cadence. In studying runners who are faster and more efficient, researchers have determined that these runners have one common denominator: their feet strike the ground at a minimum of 180 times per minute.1,2 Some of the more elite runners may reach a cadence of 200 or greater. However, when runner patients are initially learning proper form, I recommend striving for 180.
Runners can determine their cadence by timing themselves for one minute and counting the number of times their right or left foot makes contact with the ground. They should repeat this two to three times to find an average.
The next step to understanding what a faster cadence feels like is by running in place. Runner patients may purchase a running metronome with a clip to attach to their waist. It is a great tool to use while running. Another simple option for runners is downloading a metronome app on their smart phone. Standing with their feet shoulder-width apart, runners can start the metronome and begin to run in place, trying to match each footstep with the beat.
I usually recommend beginning with a cadence of 180 before going at a higher rate. A runner’s form can break down if he or she has not yet adapted to the proper running form. The best way for runner patients to achieve a faster cadence is taking the metronome with them on a run and periodically turning it on for two to three minutes. Runners may initially think they are maintaining their 180 steps at first but this can be deceiving. It is important for runners to continue training with their metronome until they are staying up with the beat each time they resume using the tool.
It is also important to let runners know that pace is irrelevant with cadence. Runners can achieve a cadence of 180 whether they run a six-minute mile or 10-minute mile. Improving their cadence will help them run faster and more efficiently.
Cadence becomes very significant from a clinical perspective for any podiatrist who treats runners, especially when dealing with a chronic injury that is not resolving. Often, it is the runner's form that is suffering, creating an overuse phenomena leading to injury. By evaluating a runner’s form and, in this case, the cadence, we can sometimes make what may seem to be a small change and actually have a large impact on the recovery from an injury. Developing a faster cadence leads to less time spent in the vertical plane, which over the course of time can significantly reduce impact forces.
In my practice, we have teamed up with a physical therapy clinic. The clinic staff performs a gait analysis on my patients and then discusses the findings with me. We even have the ability to e-mail videos of runners’ form to discuss the cases in greater detail. With the advancement of mobile phones, I even have runners send their own videos to review their gait in efforts to find any abnormality that could be leading to injury.
Many times, it is the gross examination of a runner’s form and cadence that is actually more important in addressing an injury than small, insignificant readings from a force plate analysis, which sometimes takes up more of our diagnostic focus than it should.
Editor’s note: Dr. Campitelli has disclosed that he is an unpaid Medical Advisor to Vibram USA.
1. Chapman RF, Laymon AS, Wilhite DP, McKenzie JM, Tanner DA, Stager JM. Ground contact time as an indicator of metabolic cost in elite distance runners. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2012; 44(5):917-25
2. Daniels J. Daniels’ Running Formula. Human Kinetics, Champaign, IL, 2005.
3. Available at http://sciencebasedrunning.com/2011/07/the-basics-cadence/  . Published July 5, 2011. Accessed July 16, 2012.