Running Cadence & Injury Development

There’s been a lot of research on running cadence (step rate) in the last 10 years. Most of what has been established is that a slight increase in running cadence (+5-10% of preferred) can reduce impact force per stride at several joints without a significant reduction in running economy. A faster cadence essentially pulls the foot back and reduces “over-striding.” What has also been established is that working on a faster cadence WHILE someone is working through a running-related injury can help improve symptoms during running. It’s currently debatable whether one should work on increasing their cadence if they are not injured.

A new study investigated runners’ preferred cadence and followed them for 9 months to see if a slower cadence had an impact on injury development. This type of prospective design is best at answering “cause and effect” questions, compared to some observational or retrospective studies where we really can’t draw those conclusions. This type of study on running cadence and injury has only been done once before, and it was on high school runners (not generalizable to the average recreational runner). Important to note here, the runners in the current study were either in military service or family members, and all were training ~9-10 miles per week.

So… they actually found that preferred running cadence didn’t correlate to future injury. Certainly there are limitations to the study, but it definitely puts one more on the board for the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” camp. Running injuries are multi-factorial, and it seems like running cadence in isolation isn’t enough of a factor to be that influential in this population.

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9-10 miles per week? That feels like so little that it wouldn’t be generalizable to those running 2-5 times as much, as many recreational runners do. Not to mention the fact that I would think that people running that little would have very different running histories than those who are doing 20-50 miles per week.

What I find most interesting (from a partially selfish standpoint, given that I’m injured) is this:

The implication is that working on increasing cadence while running very little during recovery might be a useful technique, and it would likely be easier than trying to increase cadence while training normally. (I’ve tried that a few times but have had trouble sticking with it.). @Sam_Lagasse or @RichHeffron, did you discuss that at all with Alex Drazic—I know he was doing some cadence training last year?

@adamengst yes the limitation in most of these studies is that you can’t take training history / training experience into account. If the inclusion criteria for a study was that someone had been training for 10 years or more, they’d have a really hard time getting the appropriate number of participants to make sure their study didn’t just spit out random noise.

@adamengst in regards to working on cadence, it has specifically been shown to be effective in pain-reduction and improving load tolerance while working through an injury. Whether someone is injured or not, it still seems to take 6-8 weeks to “retrain” your natural cadence.

I wonder if there’s also a “natural” loss of cadence as we age, and more importantly, as we repeatedly have minor injuries and come back from them. I feel like I can get up to my old cadences, but it’s more like building up a head of steam, rather than being able to change gears at will. Some of this has to be neuromuscular too—just retraining the brain.

What would you recommend for cadence-improving drills? I’ve tried various fast-step things, back and forth over a line on the ground, for instance, but I’ve had trouble sticking with them.

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@adamengst interestingly I think we actually see an increase in cadence as we age; as we age, it’s well-established that our stride length decreases as a result of calf power loss. Assuming constant speed (well, we’d like to think we aren’t getting slower…), the other variable that would have to change would be step rate. An increase in step rate attenuates a decrease in stride length to achieve the same velocity.

My go-to cadence retraining drill is to have someone start with 6-8 30" intervals of their “new” cadence 2-3x per week in their easy runs (assuming they are running that frequently). The most controlled-condition is on a treadmill to make sure you don’t end up increasing speed, but I recognize that not everyone likes to do that. It’s helpful to run with a metronome or music that matches the steps per minute of your goal. If you try to just estimate it running overground, chances are you’ll end up running faster and also miss the mark (negatively altering running economy). As someone gets comfortable with the cadence over the next few weeks, you increase the total interval time gradually. It’s fairly similar to a walk/run progression coming back from injury or a fartlek run.

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I fear we are getting slower. :slight_smile:

I wish we were doing Tuesday night MITHCAL MILERS workouts still! Then I could video some older runners like @shiggyrunner and @John_Whitman and see what their cadence is like, particularly in comparison with fast young guys like @Mikhail_Kern and @apacheck.

What I notice is that the older runners tend not to have as much of a back kick—they employ more of a shuffle stride. The loss of calf power makes sense in that regard, and a shuffle would seem to be a lower cadence too.

This is a great discussion, thanks for the insights and ideas @JTuori and @adamengst !
My personal anecdote in terms of cadence training - I ran the Cal International Marathon in 2018 and in spite of running a PR, I was still disappointed because I felt that the times I ran didn’t align with the mileage and workouts I was running. So I decided to go through the list of the top finishers at CIM who were uploading their races to Strava and found one common feature - high cadence. Almost everyone on the men’s and women’s side had a cadence > 180 and a sizeable percentage > 190. I know our local superstar @ChelseaB is ridiculously efficient and can put up 200 spm for workouts. Two of my good friends in Portland who are elites like Chelsea also run > 195 spm regularly and drop down to “only” 185 or so on trails. The lesson I took? Work on cadence.

In early 2019 with no big races on the horizon, I started working on cadence consciously but the mistake I made was upping all of my runs to a high cadence. Instead of working on it methodically and shortening my stride to keep my easy pace the same and increase efficiency, I would just end up with faster runs on all my easy runs. Turns out I was just taxing my legs more than needed and actually ended up being injured with Achilles tendinitis for 7 weeks. Should have consulted an expert like Jason before making any such changes :slight_smile: . I have gone back to my ~172 spm cadence ever since and seem to do just okay. I guess I’ll never be elite unless I have a magical late career spurt like Mo Farah who only runs 160-165 spm :wink:


Some of that has be related to leg length, but still, @ChelseaB’s turnover is insanely fast. At Seneca 7 in 2018, @alex-colvin was running the same leg as Chelsea, and our masters team was ahead of the women’s team until leg 6. That’s when Alex took the handoff and was holding a nice 6:10 pace, only to hear the pitter-patter of 200 strides per minute come up from behind. It was Chelsea, who blew by him and pulled away at something like 5:45 pace. (The women’s team went on to win the race outright that year, and we old guys spent the rest of the day cheering for them and clawing our way up third overall.)