Since I’ve been more interested in Triathlons in recent months, and plan on taking part in some more this year, I have been looking at ways of making my runs more efficient for that crucial final stage (along with improving my swimming & cycling technique of course!).
One of the best pieces of advice I’ve come across recently was written by Andy Bullock in a small Q&A section of the 220 Triathlon magazine. In it he was talking about the foot striking close to, or beneath your ‘centre of mass’ (COM) and also about measuring and developing your ‘cadence’.
Cadence seems to be the buzzword in running at the moment, and there is a LOT of talk about it. Most opinions seem to suggest that the ideal cadence is 180 (foot strikes per minute), however I also found some research which suggests that this number should be a minimum cadence to aim for.
Why care about this? Well, the number of times your foot hits the floor, and conversely, the amount of time you spend in the air between strides, all has an impact (literally) on your body. The slower your cadence, the more you are in the air and the harder you land on the foot. This slower turn over means there is a higher impact, which in turn could cause more injury and is a far less efficient way of running.
How to measure cadence? Andy’s advice is nice and simple: “Count the number of right foot strikes over 6 seconds and multiply this by 10. This is your cadence per minute”.
Research shows that increasing your cadence from below the mid 80’s to 90 or above can dramatically improve your injury prevention, and ultimately it will improve your running efficiency (and enjoyment!). If you find your cadence is down in the 60’s or 70’s then you definitely need to make some changes!
How to adjust your cadence? I measured mine using that technique, and found it to be (a very satisfactory) 85-90 over several counts through a normal pace run. It’s not an exact count by any means, but it gives you a good guide. I have been working on improving this by carefully working at increasing my leg speed through my runs. One thing that helped me with this was the other thing which Andy talked about in this article, ‘centre of mass’. By concentrating on putting my foot strike as near to my COM as possible (directly underneath the body), the whole mechanics of my running improved. By simply shortening my stride very slightly, keeping my upper body posture good (head up, shoulders back and chest out), and leaning forward a tiny amount more than usual, I found that my cadence increased, my foot strike moved from more of a heel strike to a mid-foot strike, and my pace and cadence increased at the same time! It has taken a few runs to get this all together, but I can feel a big difference already.
The theory makes sense as well… if you heel strike and have a slower than optimal cadence, the impact on the ankles and knees is huge [you land on the heel and then transfer all of your body weight and momentum through the joint in order to strike off of your toes again].
As a consequence of making these changes, my runs now feel faster and more comfortable than ever before, whilst my pace is consistently improving.
When I first started running a couple of years ago, I remember hearing about the foot strike and whether people were heel or mid-foot strikers (whilst elite athletes were fore-foot strikers!). As a beginner I was heavily heel striking, and I believe this is part of the reason I suffered lots of knee pain both during and between runs. I also remember trying to adjust just how my foot hit the ground, without any knowledge of cadence or pace. It felt ridiculous and nearly caused me worse injury trying to hit my mid-foot without really understanding the mechanics of running.
It does sound daft now talking about the ‘mechanics’ of running. We all run around as kids and its a completely natural thing for the body to do, so we should all just be able to get on and do it really… but with a little knowledge and a small amount of effort understanding our running mechanics, we can not only improve our mechanical effort and efficiency, but also our enjoyment of running… I know I am a much happier runner having made these couple of small changes!
My Tips for Improving Running Cadence & Mechanics:
- Measure your normal running pace cadence for reference. Then increase cadence by:
- Slightly shorten your stride (without changing your overall pace)
- Concentrate on your foot strike being as close as possible to your Centre of Mass
- Maintain good posture throughout your run (Head up, shoulders back, chest forward)
It might feel odd to start with, but once it clicks you’ll really see the difference!