A Case for Changing Cadence: Injury Prevention

Caption: Coach Amy evaluating a client’s running form. Video taping the runner is always useful in a personal run evaluation.

Cadence is a measurement of run gait that we can easily measure with our smart watches, but knowing what do with the data is a mystery to most runners. A quick Google search reveals debate among coaches and scientists creating even more confusion. Let’s solve the case with some clues! 

Clue #1: Cadence is a measurement of steps taken per minute (s.p.m.). Most runners naturally adapt to a cadence that is most efficient for them. Studies conducted show that attempting to run at a cadence that is lower or higher than a runner’s naturally chosen gait costs more energy. EEK! Expending more energy while running is the last thing a runner wants to do. If it costs more energy to change cadence, why in the world do we care about measuring it in the first place?  

Clue #2: A runner’s naturally chosen gait may not be the safest gait. Adapting to a higher cadence typically causes a runner to use a shorter stride length which decreases forces on the lower extremity. Minimizing forces is one of the key ways to prevent injury.  

Clue #3: Avoiding injury is a runner’s number one goal, but what about the increase in energy cost? Some studies do not test whether efficiency improves after training at a new cadence. My experience has shown that with sound training, a runner can become more efficient at running with a higher cadence and at the same time decrease risk of injury. That’s a win in my book. 

Increasing the number of steps run per minute may help prevent injury but making changes to run gait without professional assistance and feedback can do more harm than good. A thorough evaluation and guidance from a physical therapist that specializes in running is the safest way to change cadence or any component of run gait. Case solved!