Step, step, step, step, step, step, step, step, step. My physical therapist is speaking quickly and clapping her hands together with every “step” she says. I’m sweating, brow furrowed and concentrating way harder than I ever do on an average run. My PT stops talking, grabs her ipad and starts video taping my run. Step, step, step, step, step, step, step, step, step. When we sit down to watch the video, my PT examines my run cadence. I learn that I was running at about 155 steps per minute. I thought that sounded really great and was proud of myself…until my PT broke it down for me.
She explained that an optimal cadence is around 180. Yikes! I always had in my head that I should lengthen my stride. I was wrong. Shortening your stride lessens the impact of each step. It also more evenly distributes your weight as you land. It can help to reduce injury, in addition to likely making you run a bit faster. To read more about the science of increasing your cadence, you can check out this Women’s Running article here.
As with anything regarding running, changing up my cadence has proven to be quite a challenge. I think about it almost all the time when I’m running now. I swear I can hear “step, step, step, step, step, step, step, step, step” in my sleep. I focus on moving my feet faster and shortening my steps. When I’m running on the treadmill, I find it easy to settle into a groove. However transitioning to running outdoors was difficult. When I first started patying attention to my cadence while running outdoors, I felt exhausted and found it hard to settle into a comfortable pace (I kept going too fast). While I can pretty much hear the steps in my head now, I also use an app (Run Tempo if you are curious – it’s simple and just 99 cents) to help me check in on my cadence.
Step, step, step, step, step, step, step, step, step. I’m about 4 miles into my run and it’s finally clicking. My feet are moving just a hair faster than 170 steps per minute. I am feeling comfortable. I hear my PT in my head telling me to run tall, use quick steps and to not bend at the waist. I’m still sweating, my brow is still furrowed but now my concentration is focused on how I’m feeling – strong, fast and efficient. It is incredibly hard to change things about your running form – if you’ve ever tried, you know what I’m talking about. I have found that it’s easiest for me to focus on one thing at a time. I started by really dialing in to my cadence and then once I got that one, I moved on to remembering to engage my glutes and run tall. I just keep taking one thing at a time and eventually, I’ll get to where I want to be – running with proper form and no injuries!
Have you ever worked on your run cadence?
A version of this post first appeared at Women’s Running Magazine here.