Welcome back to Form February. Did you complete your homework from last week? I asked you to record yourself running. I hope you did it because we’re going to talk about it today.
As you may recall from last week, the ideal running form consists of a high cadence (leg turnover). Today we’ll delve deeper into foot strike, cadence, and stride – and how they’re interrelated and correlated.
Cadence, Foot-strike, Stride
Let’s start with some definitions. First, what exactly is cadence? Cadence is the number of steps per minute you take while running. Most elite runners have a cadence of about 180 steps per minute. They run efficiently and waste very little energy. Most often, elite runners make ground contact directly below their center of mass.
Foot-strike refers to where on your foot you first make contact with the ground. If you first make contact with your heel, you’re a heel-striker. If you make contact with the middle of your foot, you’re a mid-foot striker. And if you make contact with the balls of your feet, you’re a forefoot striker.
Stride, by definition, refers to the length of the distance between two successive placements of the same foot. If you have a normal stride, your feet should land almost directly beneath your trunk. If you over-stride, your feet are “reaching” ahead of you.
Some individuals can overstride, heelstrike and have low cadence and never experience an injury throughout their entire lifetime as a runner. A lot of people, on the other hand, do experience some sort of injury in the lower extremities. The foundation of good, injury-free running is in the form. I’m going to talk about foot strike and stride length in depth later on and why these things are important, but today I want to focus on cadence, mostly because it’s kind of fun to work on. I will make mention of foot strike and stride, though, so hang with me if you can.
Measuring Your Cadence
To measure your own cadence, go for a run either on the treadmill or on the road — either will work – and choose which foot you’re going to focus on. As you run, count the number of times your foot strikes the ground in a minute. Once you get this number, multiply by two and then you have your cadence.
Get your video out that you took of yourself last week – if you watch your video in slow motion, you can see where in relation to your center of mass (i.e. your torso) your foot makes contact with the ground. Is your initial contact in front of you or directly below you? If your answer is “directly below” then you’ve got a leg up (pun intended) on a lot of runners. But if you answered “in front of me,” one thing you may want to consider is working on cadence. Pop quiz: if your feet make contact in front of you, this is called…? (Yep, over-striding. Nice job!)
Culprits of Injury?
For this exercise, I’m going to make a few assumptions. I’m going to assume you’re an over-strider (possibly a heel-striker) and that your cadence is less than 180 steps per minute. The average runner takes between 160 and 180 steps per minute with the most efficient running at 180, so for argument’s sake let’s go with 170.
Where many runners get in trouble is the combination of over-striding, heel-striking, and low leg turnover. Heel-striking, while not inherently bad in and of itself (this is widely debated, actually, and I’ll come back to this again), can increase the force of impact on your lower leg, resulting in the potential for overuse injuries.
Important to note here, though, isn’t so much where you strike on your feet when you’re running but where under your center of mass do your feet land. If they’re outstretched in front of you, the impact force is much greater than if you land just below your torso.
Generally speaking, low cadence encourages over-striding, which then leads to heel-striking – which, as we just discussed, increases the impact force when we land.
Shorten Your Stride, Quicken Your Feet
Our goal, then, is to quicken our steps, shorten our stride, and reduce our risk of injury. We don’t want to run faster, we just want to run “quicker.” Think “quick and light.”
There are two ways to accomplish this — listen to drum and bass techno, or download a metronome app on your phone. Either will work but the metronome is more scientific. Drum and bass, while really fun to listen and run to, can vary by about 20 beats per minute, depending on the song and artist. If you’re using a metronome, set it to 180.
If you’re not using the metronome, this is actually a really simple drum and bass snippet I found on YouTube. It has all the elements essential to follow the beat.
Turn the music (or metronome) up so you can hear it over everything else. Match your steps to the beat.
Dah, dah, dah, dah, dah, dah, dah, dah…
Each foot should hit the ground on the beat. It will be hard to do at first but ultimately your steps should quicken and your feet will land just below your center of mass. If you’re using the metronome, once you match your steps to the beat, you really shouldn’t hear the metronome anymore. It should disappear as background noise. You’ll notice you aren’t hitting your target if you can hear it clearly again.
This is a really fun exercise to do. It challenges not only your muscle memory but also challenges your mental focus and resolve. It’s tough to zero in on a very specific beat but once you’re locked in, you’re good to go.
Ready for some homework? This week listen to the metronome for all your runs. Let’s meet back next week and discuss how it went and if you’ve noticed any changes.
TALK TO ME!
What’s your cadence?
After reviewing your video, how do you feel about your stride and footstrike?