The importance of cadence in running

By Massimo Massarini, Doctor in Sport Medicine, Vitalia Progetti Salute
Increasing running cadence can bring many advantages, but there is not “magic number” that fits everybody. Each athlete has a cadence which varies with speed, these are the numbers to start from to improve running speed and to lower the risk of injuries. Testing athletes on the treadmill is the best way to obtain solid data to define training program.
Group race on Skillrun
Treadmill is also the ideal tool to perform cadence specific training drills since the runner doesn’t have to worry about keeping a certain pace.  Patience and gradual increase are as usual fundamental to achieve steady and safe adaptations. Comparing athletes with amateurs, a big difference jumps to the eyes: the different cadence they keep. This is true in almost all aerobic sports: from cycling to swimming, from running to cross-country skiing, no matter the discipline, elite athletes can go faster maintaining a higher cadence for long time and distances.
Girl trains on Skillrun
Cadence, in general, can be defined as the number of repetition per minute and in running it translates into stride per minute. Increasing stride rate reduces the risk of overuse related pathologies such as tendinitis, plantar fasciitis and bone injuries like stress fractures. This is because running at faster cadence allows placing the foot less forward, keeping it under the centre of gravity and reducing the vertical bouncing of the body
Skillrun Class: an emotional training experience
Looking inside the muscles, we could also notice that at any given speed, a higher cadence causes less eccentric load and less stretch of the muscle fibres. Final result is lesser stress on tendons and muscles and a reduction of energy cost.
Skillrun Class for a complete cardio and functional workout
However, to increase stride rate we need to create adaptation at central (brain) and peripheral (muscles) level. We must train central nervous system to generate inputs at higher speed to send orders to the motor units that must be ready to contract and release faster.

Like every training stimulus, also this one requires time. Results will be an automatic shift of cadence but 6-8 weeks are the expected time to achieve steady results.

How to analyse running characteristics
Skillrun has a sensorised deck which detects every single running data: cadence, stride length, contact time, balance. The large screen provides you a real time feed-back to improve running technique.
Train your cadence with Skillrun while tracking on your HD touch screen
The best advice to perform a thorough test is to follow an incremental protocol with speed increasing 1 km/h every 4 minutes. At the end of each step, heart rate and blood lactate will be measured in order to determine anaerobic threshold and speed and the same reference values for easy and medium pace. But the most interesting part is that using a sensorised treadmill, cadence and stride length can be recorded too.

Exercises to improve cadence

Well, at the end, we’ll have an athlete’s detailed “picture” from both metabolic and mechanic perspective and we can use it to refine training target. In fact, it will be easy to understand which is the “strategy” adopted by each subject since data will outline different running patterns: there are runners who increase cadence and stride length at each speed increment, whereas there are others that just increase cadence and some others who work more on stride length.  Thus, the preferred cadence at each training intensity should be recorded.
Skillrun bootcamp.
This is a very good starting point to design a training plan that will consider not just speed and heart rate but also target cadence at different paces. To make an example, if data show a “lazy” cadence and a trend to increase stride length, particular focus is needed to improve cadence at each target speed. The goal, however, must be realistic and within athlete’s reach: if the cadence is 160 at medium pace, a realistic target could be 165-168, repeating the drill until the new cadence becomes natural.
Running on the treadmill
Of course performing specific drills on the treadmill can be very useful because it allows to keep the same pace focusing on cadence only. It happens, in fact, that running outdoor at constant pace whilst modifying the cadence is rather difficult and there is a natural trend to increase speed when increasing cadence.
Designing training session with this scope will consist in planning different steps at target speed, such as easy aerobic, tempo and anaerobic threshold associating them with a target cadence which will be 5 steps/minute faster than the ones recorded in the test.

Another training drill could be running at constant pace for 10 minutes, performing cadence intervals of 1’  each, going from the basic rate to 5 steps/minute faster and recovering for 1’ at the previous rate.

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