Updated: Oct 8, 2018
It is widely known that greater that 80-90 percent of runners are injured in the course of their running career. Running is essentially a series of single leg squats over and over again, and each time you land forces of two to three times your body weight transfer up your limb. Have you ever tried a single leg squat? Does you knee come in? Do you lose your balance? Have pain?
If you have any dysfunctional movement patterns (such as your knee coming in on a single leg squat), muscle weakness or imbalance, lack of limb stiffness or too much stiffness or a non-optimal running gait, you will be at a higher risk for injury. The literature shows that modifying running form can reduce the mechanical demands on the lower extremity and spine, which may expedite a runner's ability to return to running following injury and decrease overall risk for injury (1, 5, 6, 8).
There are several modifiable aspects of running gait. Over the next several blog posts, we will discuss many of these modifications, when they may be appropriate to implement and the possible benefits. It is likely that a runner will only need to modify one or two aspects of the gait to improve performance, prevent injury or improve pain.
There is nothing wrong with trying to improve your gait on your own; however, there is an art and science to gait retraining. If you try any of these modifications and feel worse or don’t notice any benefits, then stop and discuss with someone who is trained in running medicine, like the staff at Precision Performance.
Cadence is one of the easiest ways to modify running gait. Running cadence is defined by how many steps per minutes a runner takes. Runners typically have a self-selected cadence that changes slightly when speed is altered but generally stays in the individual runner's “optimal window.” This optimal window allows for consistent energy consumption.
Many consider 180 steps per minute to be the gold standard for cadence, and many runners make it their goal to reach 180 steps per min. This is often the first mistake made. It is a myth that elite runners run at 180 steps per minute. In fact, many competitive runners run a cadence somewhere between 170-190 steps per minute. However, the average runner had a running cadence somewhere between 150-180 steps per minute. Your goal should be to slowly increase your cadence over time to a number that allows you to run comfortably without overstriding.
Why is increasing cadence beneficial?
There are several benefits to cadence manipulation. Overstriding and heel striking are common gait dysfunctions associated with many running injuries, including knee pain. Modifying cadence is an easy way to decrease overstriding and change how your foot hits the ground. Additionally, research has shown that cadence manipulation can (3, 4, 6, 7):
Decrease loading of hip and knee joints during running
Facilitate activation of gluteus medius and maximus during late swing when running at a higher step rate
Decreased braking impulse
Decreased patellofemoral joint forces
Decreased tibial acceleration
Decrease vertical impact loading rate better than foot orthoses or cushioned shoes
How should we go about modifying cadence?
You need to know what your cadence is. Most running watches now track your cadence, and they are pretty accurate. But if you want to go the old school route, then you can count how many steps you take in one minute. Once you know what your current cadence is, you can begin to modify it.
The research says to increase cadence by five to 10 percent for the best results. Increasing your cadence by more than 10 percent will increase your energy consumption and put you at risk for injury. Clinically, we have found that a five percent increase is plenty and is much more manageable for runners to maintain initially.
So, if your cadence is 165 BPM then increasing it to 173BPM will be sufficient. Once you have chosen the cadence you wish to try, you can use auditory feedback, such as a metronome or a music play list (2) in order to keep you on track. Over time, you will no longer need the auditory cues, but you will be glad to have them at first. We suggest you try the new cadence change for short periods of time at first to get used to the pattern. The first few times you try it, you may notice you are a little out of breath or it feels strange. Don't give up too soon: your body will need several weeks to adjust to the change. You may also notice that you feel great!
If you have any questions about modifying your cadence or any difficulty, please reach out and ask us for help!
1. Adams D, Pozzi F, Willy RW, Carrol A, and Zeni J. Altering Cadence or Vertical Oscillation during Running: Effects on Running Related Injury Factors. International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy 13: 633-642, 2018.
2. Agresta C and Brown A. Gait Retraining for Injured and Healthy Runners Using Augmented Feedback: A Systematic Literature Review. J Orthop Sports Phys Ther 45: 576-584, 2015.
3. Chumanov ES, Wille CM, Michalski MP, and Heiderscheit BC. Changes in muscle activation patterns when running step rate is increased. Gait Posture 36: 231-235, 2012.
4. Crowell HP and Davis IS. Gait retraining to reduce lower extremity loading in runners. Clin Biomech (Bristol, Avon) 26: 78-83, 2011.
5. Davis IS and Futrell E. Gait Retraining: Altering the Fingerprint of Gait. Phys Med Rehabil Clin N Am 27: 339-355, 2016.
6. Heiderscheit BC, Chumanov ES, Michalski MP, Wille CM, and Ryan MB. Effects of step rate manipulation on joint mechanics during running. Med Sci Sports Exerc 43: 296-302, 2011.
7. Lenhart RL, Thelen DG, Wille CM, Chumanov ES, and Heiderscheit BC. Increasing running step rate reduces patellofemoral joint forces. Med Sci Sports Exerc 46: 557-564, 2014.
8. Souza RB. An Evidence-Based Videotaped Running Biomechanics Analysis. Phys Med Rehabil Clin N Am 27: 217-236, 2016.