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Does Cadence Matter?

A man and woman run down the street in the sun

A 2014 study conducted by Dr. Rachel Lenhart from the University of Wisconsin-Madison found that increasing your step rate, or cadence, by as little as 10 percent could effectively alleviate knee pain and even reduce your risk of knee injury from running.

Most of us don’t put a lot of thought into the way we walk or run, it comes naturally, and our bodies flow naturally within its own movement. But, if we take the extra effort to think about the way our feet strike the ground, or the length of our steps, we could save our bodies from unnecessary pain or injury and spend more time enjoying our run.

When you take quicker, shorter steps, you shift your center of gravity and reduce braking forces with every footfall. This creates a less pronounced heel strike and a more fluid running stride. You prevent your knees from taking on excessive load forces and you reduce injuries related to over-striding (e.g. hamstring strains).

So what does this mean for you?

Take Smaller Steps

While the goal is literally to take smaller steps, figuratively taking smaller steps by increasing your cadence only slightly, will help train your body into a new running form. Approach with caution. Repetition and symmetry are key. For example, you don’t want to over stride on your left side and overcompensate by short stepping on your right.

A gait-analysis study performed in 2019 at the University of British Columbia found that by runners who increased their cadence (and decreased step length) saw a 15 percent decrease in brake forces as they ran, meaning less impact on their joints and a healthier run overall. This group, lead by Dr. Christopher Napier, PT, suggests that restricting the gait to shorter, more frequent steps may be a viable injury prevention method for recreational runners of all ages.

Use a Metronome or Music

Finding the right stride length for your shape and size is the key to building and maintaining a healthy cadence. Since 180 spm really doesn’t seem to be the magic number for everyone, we recommend finding a song with the optimal beats per minute you’d like to maintain, and run with it intermittently throughout your run.

In recent years, Spotify and other music streaming platforms have released workout playlists organized by beats per minute(bpm), so you can find your rhythm (pun intended) and help your body get used to a new cadence without overly fatiguing your body or your taste in music. As with anything, practice makes perfect, and over time you will find that you can run at your new cadence without the help of music or a metronome.

Listen to Spotify's 180 bpm Playlist

Talk to an Expert

Our specially trained outfitters use tools like our unique pressure plate to help you understand the way your body moves and what shoes would suit you best, which can prevent injury and ultimately helps you enjoy running more.

If you find that you are having joint pain on the run, adjusting your cadence may or may not help. The best way to address the pain you are experiencing is to consult an expert to learn what the problem may be.

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