Hit a plateau in your running? Feel like you’re slogging along while others float by? Want a quick, easy way to get faster? Increasing your cadence may be just what you need.
Cadence is the number of times your foot strikes the ground in a given time period, usually measured per minute. Because forward movement only happens when your feet strike the ground, it behooves you to get them off the ground as quickly as possible.
Your height, weight, leg and stride length and running ability will determine your optimal cadence. Everyday runners generally fall between 160-170 steps per minute, while elite runners strike the ground around 180 steps per minute or higher—with some getting above 200 at their fastest speeds.
Determine Your Cadence
On your next run, count the number of times each foot strikes the ground. To make it simpler, pick either your right or left foot, count the number of times it strikes the ground in a minute and multiply that by two. This is your training cadence.
There is a difference between a training cadence and a speed workout/racing cadence. Generally, your speed workout/racing cadence will be faster. Determine your cadence for both types of runs.
Improve Your Cadence
Improving cadence is not difficult, but it does take time. Give yourself six to eight weeks for your body to adapt to your new turnover. There are several ways to introduce a faster cadence into your runs. The top three are highlighted below.
1. Use a Metronome
A metronome is a device that produces a predetermined number, beats or clicks per minute that enable you to train by keeping a constant rhythm your body can recognize. Metronomes are great because you don’t have to count the number of steps you take per minute. Just set your desired number of beats per minute and run to the rhythm.
Other options besides beats and clicks include music set to a specified number of beats per minute. For example, JogTunes has a number of songs that beat at a variety of cadences.
Visualization, also called guided imagery, is the mental rehearsal of an activity. Athletes use visualization to mimic a desired outcome of a race or training session, or to simply relax. Through visualization, you train your mind and body to perform the skill you are imagining.
Studies with the bodies of athletes visualizing performances while hooked up to a monitor show that visualization mimics the stresses of an actual race. Their hearts beat faster, breaths quicken, awareness heightens and muscles tighten as though they were running a race.
Visualize yourself running with a faster cadence and notice how your body automatically adjusts to the rhythm in your mind.
3. Run in Place
Stand in front of a mirror with your feet shoulder-width apart. Position your arms and hands as though you were running. Run in place as fast as you can, bringing your knees halfway up. Make sure your knees are pointing straight ahead and your heels are not touching the ground.
Run for 20 seconds, and then rest for one minute. Count the number of times your right foot strikes the ground. Repeat the drill two more times. Perform this drill a couple times per week. Note whether the number of times your right foot hits the ground increases. With this drill, you are teaching your feet to get off the ground as quickly as possible, which translates into a faster cadence.
To avoid injury, increase your cadence by no more than two to five steps per minute. Don’t try to get your cadence up to 180 strikes per minute in one session. Increases in time and distance should also be gradual.
For example, begin by running one minute at a faster cadence, return to your original cadence for three to five minutes, and then run at the faster cadence again. Play with time to see what works for you.
Another option would be to increase cadence by distance. For example, run every third mile at a higher cadence. The key is to continue to make the length of time/distance longer until your whole run is performed at a higher cadence.
Your body may need six to eight weeks to adapt to your higher cadence, but it will adapt and become part of muscle memory. When you teach your body how to do something, such as ride a bike or run at a faster cadence, it creates a physiological road map you can draw on at any time. So the next time you line up for a race or a run, you won’t have to think about your legs turning over quickly; they already will.