CoachCox

Cadence

Korg Micrometro MCM-1 - Metronome for RunningOne hundred and eighty-four electronic bleeps per minute accompanied my run this morning as I tested a new training aid – a metronome. Each bleep matched a footfall, targeting a cadence in that magic ninety to one hundred region elite runners inhabit. They proved remarkably engaging, my mind focused on holding the rhythm, the run felt fast, but controlled. This sample of one is encouraging, the metronome will likely become a regular running companion.

I’ve occasionally flirted with the issue of cadence. Far in the past, as I trained to be a better runner, I worked to achieve that golden ninety footfalls; once there I never gave it another thought. New to cycling, I routinely encountered advice to spin, 90 rpm, it was what Lance Armstrong would do; I followed, I tried and eventually I stopped worrying. In the water the advice was about distance per stroke, not strokes per minute; the idea of controlling the rate never entered my head. Cadence was never a major concern, I adopted what was comfortable and fast.

You can be too comfortable. Swim Smooth introduced me to the Wetronome, a waterproof, bleeping box that could set a tempo for your stroke. Stroke length was important, but so was stroke rate; if two swimmers move a metre every stroke then the one who does seventy per minute covers ten metres more than the one who does sixty. Testing showed I gravitated towards sixty, but could maintain form at seventy – I was missing speed. I incorporated a Wetronome and started training stroke rate to gain those extra seconds; inevitably use of the Wetronome faded with time, but the important of stroke rate didn’t. At my fittest I easily controlled my pace through my stroke rate, able to raise it without significant impact on distance per stroke. In my current condition I struggle to combine good technique with high turn over, so I concentrate on developing the fitness that will enable me to work on stroke rate once more. I am cadence aware, but not obsessed.

As I rode longer, hillier and harder I headed in the opposite direction, my natural cadence dropped. Power output remained unaffected, but on longer rides I naturally preferred a lower cadence, ninety felt uncomfortable, tiring. Cadence was always an option on my bike computer, but I chose to ignore it, instead concentrating on wattage and heart rate. I played, a winter spent only in the little ring was interesting, but had little influence on the year ahead (positive or negative); adjusting gears on steady state rides showed the right cadence simply felt better. I didn’t aim for a golden rule, instead I strived to learn the turnover my body preferred. I remain largely ignorant of my cycling cadence, I’m aware of power, heart rate and how my legs feel. It seems to work.

After a few months of training ninety felt natural when running, so I paid little attention to cadence. Six years later, when I acquired a Garmin Footpod, it confirmed I still tended towards ninety strides per minute, give or take. If James hadn’t suggested it during my last Kinetic Revolution track session I wouldn’t have considered running with a metronome, after all, I was already in the right region, but there are dips – fatigue takes it’s toll and momentary lapses in concentration see the cadence drop – if nothing else it would ensure consistency. What was surprising was the change it brought to my entire run; concentrating on the bleep pulled each aspect of my technique in line – I felt I was running better.

Comparison of Run Cadence With and Without a Metronome

Feelings and a sample size of one – not ideal. I ran the same thirty minute route on Tuesday and Thursday this week, the first unaccompanied and the second with metronome. As the graph shows they both occupy a narrow cadence range, but the difference is consistency – with the metronome everything is a little more crisp and controlled; the beat guides me. To further this anecdotal evidence I will note that while I was fresher on Tuesday it was then my cadence fell towards the end of the run. Fatigue would predict Thursday to be the day I struggled, but the bleeps kept me honest.

So my flirtation with cadence continues, perhaps a little more seriously than before. I remain ambivalent in cycling, there is sufficient discussion to leave me unconcerned at my lower cadence while I can comfortably produce the power. I know I will need a higher arm turnover in the pool and await the full development of my fitness to enable it. And I continue to run around ninety, just a little more consistently with the aid of the metronome.

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Comments

  • Hey there Russ, I’ve got some questions on this one!

    I’ve also spent some time trying to increase my cadence to 90 on my long and easy runs. I’ve found that my run form almost turns into a shuffle. For me, having a 90 cadence at 5:10min/km seems to stop me from doing the other good form things like knee lift and heel kick. Isn’t this counter-productive? Or is it the point?

    If I try to do good form at a 90 cadence I find myself running something like 4:40 min/km – no longer an easy run, nor my current long run pace. 90 feels kind of arbitrary, so I now ignore it, but I do stay aware of foot speed during these runs, particularly after the first 10 mins once I’ve warmed up.

    How do you find 90 cadence and form works for you?

    And, if my 18min 5k is currently done at 100 cadence, is the idea that I should be doing this same time at 105? Or is it just to get my leg speed up so I can run a little quicker?

    Love to hear your thoughts!

    John

  • Hi John,

    I guess firstly it’s not that 90 is necessarily optimal for everyone, as with most things I’m sure there’s some individual variation. We aim for this sort of cadence because of the reduced contact time with the ground and reduction in impact forces, also when done correctly it tends to promote better run biomechanics – foot landing under the centre of mass for example. However it is tricky to perform at slower paces.

    Run speed is basically Stride Rate x Stride Length so to hold a fixed pace while increasing from a cadence of 75 to a cadence of 90 you would need to reduce stride length. You’d achieve this by reducing the heel and knee lift, but you can still ensure the appropriate muscle groups are used in the appropriate order. When I run slow at a cadence of 92 my feet don’t lift that high and neither do my knees, but my gluteus and hamstrings are activated to lift the foot; I tend to think of the word ‘lift’ on each bleep to remind me it’s a lifting action not a push.

    If you don’t adjust that foot lift, then as you increase cadence then you will naturally also increase speed and the run will become harder. As I first adapted my technique running slow was the hardest part to grasp. I already ran at around a cadence of 90, but didn’t use my hamstrings to lift my foot cleanly, instead pushing off with my calf and throwing the leg forward with hip flexor and quad. The change I made was maintaining the cadence without increasing stride length by over reaching with my leg. Instead my stride length is determined by how high I lift my foot.

    I look to run my easy/slow runs at the same cadence as my fast runs – so a 5K, a marathon or a recovery jog would all be at a cadence around 90 for me. To increase speed I don’t increase cadence – I just increase leg lift and through it stride length. So in the equation of Run Speed = Stride Rate x Stride Length I keep the rate fixed. The primary purpose of a higher cadence is to promote a technique that’s efficient and also lowers impact on the body, we’re not chasing higher cadences purely for higher speeds.

    I had the questionable pleasure of running up a 2km 10% hill in Bath yesterday, I did this with the metronome, holding a pace in the region of 6:00min/km (probably slower). It was challenging to keep turning my feet over moving forward so slowly on the ascent. My hamstrings and gluteus really felt the effort too which let me know I was still appropriately lifting my heels. It’s definitely hard to adapt to doing small movements with good form, why things like strides are used to reinforce technique. It may be worth looking to mix elements like that into your run to enforce good technique through some fast running, then try to control that as you slow pace down. It should feel like you’re taking tiny steps at the slowest speeds, but more like tip-toeing (without being deliberately up on your toes) then shuffling I’d say).

    Always hard to describe movements with words alone, but hope that helps.

    Russ

  • Cheers Russ, plenty to ponder there!

  • bruno

    Hi Russ, do you keep the same cadence running whatever the gradient you are on is? were you doing 90 on the 10%?

  • Bruno,

    I aim to hold the same cadence over all terrain, it will vary a little, but I ran up the 10% incline in Bath with the metronome and stuck to the same 90+ cadence I used on the flats. It does feel odd, very small strides for the pace and it certainly takes more concentration than slowing the cadence and taking longer strides.

    Ultimately the aim is to be consistent in cadence and vary pace by altering the lift of my leg and the resulting stride length that follows from that.

    Russ