There are two things that largely determine your speed – stride length and running cadence. Stride length pertains to the distance you cover between each step. The longer your stride length, the greater your chances of being faster than most other runners. Cadence is the number of steps taken per minute. The more steps you take per minute, you once again increase your chances of being faster than most other runners. This article focuses on improving cadence, since it is the easier of the two variables to improve upon.
If there is one variable that is common amongst all fast runners, or elite runners shall I say, it is cadence rate. Various observational studies have narrowed it down to an exact rate, which is 180-190 steps per minute. Race distance doesn’t seem to matter either. The only difference is, short distance runners (i.e. 800 meters to 5k) have a longer stride length than long distance runners (i.e. marathon).
Extraordinary natural abilities, determination, strategy, and the “x factors” will always set an elite athlete apart from the rest of the pack. However, with practice and patience, we can still most definitely improve our running cadence rates and achieve elite cadences (or come pretty darn close). This represents a huge opportunity to become faster and edge your competition.
So, how does one go about improving run cadence? You need to establish a benchmark. The next time you go out to do one of your normal runs, take a stopwatch. Count how many steps you take in one minute during the beginning, middle, and end of your run, and take the average of these three figures. This will give you a good idea of what your current cadence rate is. Your goal, then, is to take more steps per minute. At first glance, it seems that the obvious solution to this challenge is to “run faster.” Yes, this is true, but brute force alone won’t do the job. And remember, the reason you want to improve running cadence in the first place is to run faster. Increasing your cadence rate will take some technique. Use the following strategy to improve your cadence.
Learn proper running form. Proper running form makes you a more efficient runner, allowing you to maximize forward movement relative to the amount of energy you expend. There are many components to efficient running mechanics. I have outlined them in a separate article.Click here to learn more about proper running form.
Work on being light-footed. Remember, as a runner, friction is your enemy. You want to spend the least amount of time on the ground as possible during each step. The longer it takes your feet to transition from first contact to toe-off, the slower you are. It takes some practice, but you can improve the speed of your foot transitions. Stay relaxed. Keep your knees slightly bent. Land on the balls of your feet. Don’t get confused with toes. I specifically mean the balls. Concentrate on turning your feet over as fast as you can. Don’t put too much emphasis on pushing off the ground. Instead, work on gliding across. You can also use imagery to help. For example, I often imagine myself running down hill, or running on an extremely hot surface.
There are specific drills that you can do to improve running cadence. I usually do the following drills to warm up before and to cool down after my regular run workouts
These drills consist of 20-35 yards of very quick short steps. They are designed to get the runner into the habit of turning the feet over quickly and landing on the balls of the feet.
These drills consist of 25-50 yards of very quick long steps. They are used to physically lengthen the runner’s stride (the more distance you cover the faster your are). They are also designed to get the runner to be lighter on the feet. Since the drill requires the runner to be quick, it forces him to accommodate the high impact of longer steps with a lighter touch and smoother roll of the foot.
A very simple trick that will help improve running cadence is to switch to lighter, more streamlined shoes. Heavier, more bulky shoes slow a runner down. Shoes weighing 11-12 ounces generally provide a good combination of performance, cushion, and foot guidance. Of course, you’d want to stick with the type of shoe that will meet your support needs (click here if you don’t know how to choose running shoes). You should wear any shoe weighing less than 11 ounces with caution and limit its usage to one workout per week. If you have injuries or are more prone to them than the average person, take a pass on wearing lighter shoes. You can’t be fast if you end up sidelining yourself with an injury. Shoes that set the heel higher than the forefoot are ideal because they allow for a faster, shorter transition from heel to toe. A flexible forefoot is also recommended because it allows the foot to roll more smoothly. Although you never want a shoe that fits uncomfortably tight, you don’t want a shoe that fits too loosely. The shoe should have a glove like fit and move seamlessly with your foot.