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Stride vs Cadence
Have you ever wondered whether it is better to take longer steps when you run or shorter steps? Coach Jack Daniels (Runner's World's best running coach) was the first to popularize, what he determined to be, ideal cadence. By counting the number of steps per minute (spm) taken by high performance runners, he found 180 to be the norm. His approach to running was to increase step rate in stead of step length.
The advantage of increasing cadence is that it supposedly reduces the amount of mechanical energy absorbed by the knee and hip by 10%. The result may reduce the risk of injury and increase efficiency. Research published in 2011 by Heiderscheit et al indicates that "braking impulse and impact forces would decrease with increasing step rate” and put less stress on your joints. Many have concluded that to be proof that Jack Daniel's ideal cadence (not the whiskey) is right for the rest of us.
What could be wrong with reducing impact forces to the knee or ankle while also reducing braking impulse? What these researchers didn’t consider is that impact forces can also be reduced by correcting your stride. For example, David Rudisha, the 2012 Olympic Gold medalist in 800 meters (1:40.91), extends his hips so far back that the bottom of his feet face up and are at the level of his waist.
HIs one mile pace at this event is 3:21! Analyzing his running form teaches us a valuable lesson, forward propulsion must come from the hips if you want to minimize impact force and run fast. When doing this you will propel yourself forward not upward. Many non-elite high cadence runners, though, look as if they are jumping. Their heads bobbing up and down like a yoyo.
Dennis Kimetto, the current world record marathoner (2:2:57) also has a huge stride and a high cadence in the 200-210 spm range. Whether you are big or small, run fast or slow, those promoting a cadence of 180 advocate the “one size fits all” approach. Cadence is just a number. It really has no meaning. Instead focus on improving your stride. Push back far and extend your hips. If you want higher cadence run faster.
Every runner will have a different cadence depending on speed, leg length, terrain, and running form. For us non-elites the question should not be about ideal cadence. Instead it should be about efficiently propelling ourselves forward, as demonstrated in the world's top runners. This applies to any running speed and will naturally also reduce breaking impulse and impact forces to your ankle, knee, and hip.
It’s OK to take in a little Jack Daniels once in a while. Just don’t do it with cadence as many a runner probably has drunk the Jack Daniels with their running routine!”