Lab Rat

Un­der­stand­ing Ca­dence

Canadian Running - - SEPTEMBER & OCTOBER 2017 - By Mary­lene Vester­gom

Why should you care? As it re­lates to per­for­mance, mean­ing the cost of en­ergy like VO2 max, Iain Hunter, Ph.D at Brigham Young Univer­sity, tells run­ners not to worry about it. “What’s op­ti­mal for one per­son is not go­ing to suit some­one else. There are too many fac­tors spe­cific to your body, like how fast you’re go­ing, the length of your legs and foot strike. In­stead, the ca­dence that uses less en­ergy is the one peo­ple pre­fer. Run at your pre­ferred ca­dence and play around with it.”

In a re­cent study, Hunter tested to see if in­ex­pe­ri­enced run­ners were as ca­pa­ble as ex­pe­ri­enced run­ners in self-op­ti­miz­ing st ride length to min­i­mize oxy­gen up­take. What he found was both groups were able to op­ti­mize the num­ber of steps to their pre­ferred stride length to an eco­nom­i­cal stride. So there is no magic num­ber. It’s unique to each run­ner.

Richard Willy, Ph.D, a phys­i­cal ther­a­pist at East Carolina Univer­sity, agrees. “We found the range in ca­dence across run­ners was up to 30 spm, which is re­ally big, and so for me to say that ev­ery­one should run a cer­tain ca­dence; it could be off by 20 per cent from what they nor­mally would do.”

This isn’t to say you can’t test your pre­ferred ver­sus op­ti­mal ca­dence. Biomech­a­nist Dr. Max Pa­que­tte at the Univer­sity of Mem­phis sug­gests you run at your pre­ferred ca­dence and try to in­crease or de­crease by two to five per cent us­ing a metronome app while track­ing your heart rate. “Gen­er­ally speak­ing, you have an op­ti­mal ca­dence, and above and be­low that, en­ergy costs will likely in­crease, which is detri­men­tal to per­for­mance. In some run­ners, en­ergy costs may im­prove even with a small in­crease (as low as two per cent) in ca­dence, sug­gest­ing their “pre­ferred” was not their op­ti­mal ca­dence.”

Per­haps the ad­vice from Canada’s top fe­male marathoner, Lanni Marchant, sums it up best: “You’re go­ing to find your own rhythm. Rec­og­nize that you can’t force a stride or a ca­dence on to your body, it just doesn’t work – you’ll just end up hurt­ing your­self.”

Mary­lene Vester­gom is a reg­u­lar con­trib­u­tor.

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