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Running Cadence: What’s Your Number?

Up to 80% of recreational runners experience a running related injury (RRI) every year. The most common RRIs occur at the knee and below in areas such as the leg, shin, ankle and foot. Increasing one’s cadence while running can reduce the load to these regions of the body that are most frequently injured.

Your run cadence, or step rate, is the number of foot contacts made per minute while you run. Most recreational runners fall between 140-180 steps per min. Cadence is affected by multiple factors and will differ between runners.

How do I calculate my running cadence and what should it be?

After a quick warm up, start running and count the number of times your right foot hits the ground for one minute.
Multiply this number by two to get calculate your step rate.

If you fall on the low end of the cadence spectrum or are experiencing some discomfort while running, try increasing your running cadence by at least 5% with a goal of 10% at your preferred speed. Find your current step rate and multiply it by 1.05 and 1.10 to establish your 5-10% window.

Current Step Rate x 1.05 = 5% Window
Current Step Rate x 1.10 = 10% Window

Why should I increase my cadence?

Increasing your cadence by 5% above your preferred rate, while maintaining the same preferred running speed/velocity, will reduce the energy absorption (or load) by up to 20% at the knee joint, which is the most commonly injured area of the body in runners. Another advantage of a higher cadence includes a wider step width. This will help reduce strain to the iliotibial band (IT band), the most prevalent cause of lateral knee pain. “Shin splints” or medial tibial stress syndrome is also affected by an increase in step rate as runners typically adopt a flatter foot strike affecting load to the lower leg. These are just some of the benefits that may occur with a cadence change.

How do I increase my cadence?

An easy way to start to alter your cadence is to run to a beat. Set an audible metronome to your desired step rate and match your foot speed to the beat. Metronomes are found in apps on smartphones and are available on some running watches. RUNCADENCE is an app that can help to identify your current cadence and determine your new cadence window. It is also equipped with a metronome to use while training. Another way to affect your step rate is to increase your arm swing while running. This should cause a reciprocal increase in foot speed.

How do I start?

Practice your goal cadence during your run workouts. Remember, if you run a 9 minute mile pace, keep your 9 minute mile pace, just increase the steps you take per minute—think of “turning your feet over faster”. Start with a 5% increase above your preferred step rate. Practice your new step rate for 30 second intervals and work up to 1, 2, 3 minute bouts over a training session. Give yourself at least 6 weeks to master this task!

Increasing your step rate while maintaining your preferred running speed has been shown in the research to reduce loads to the areas of the body most often injured with running. Cadence alteration is just one of many tools that can be incorporated into a running treatment plan. Learn more about how to improve your run form with a one-on-one Run Assessment.

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