RUN CADENCE

Triathlon Magazine Canada - - RUN TRAINING -

WHEN LANCE ARM­STRONG was tak­ing the cy­cling world by storm in the early 2000s, cy­clists around the world sud­denly started to try and du­pli­cate his rid­ing style that fea­tured a higher cadence – typ­i­cally around 95 revo­lu­tions per minute – that was thought to be one of the keys to his suc­cess. (Un­for­tu­nately, we now know some of the other fac­tors that helped him dom­i­nate the Tour, but there’s no deny­ing Arm­strong’s im­pres­sive cy­cling tal­ent.)

These days, we’re start­ing to see a sim­i­lar wave of “cadence-track­ing” when it comes to run­ning per­for­mance. Many triath­letes, ever the group to an­a­lyze any bit of data they can muster, now closely mon­i­tor not only their pace dur­ing their runs, they keep an eye on their run­ning cadence, too.

Now, in the same vein that ev­ery­one strived to du­pli­cate Arm­strong’s 95 RPM, many have come up with a mag­i­cal “cadence” of 180 strides per minute as the ideal. As I of­ten ar­gued in the early 2000s (pos­si­bly as a de­fence for my tra­di­tion­ally slow 75 to 80 RPM bike cadence), those ideal num­bers re­ally don’t make sense for ev­ery­one. Jan Ul­rich, who fa­mously fin­ished sec­ond to Arm­strong at many of his Tour vic­to­ries, tra­di­tion­ally pedalled with the same cadence as I did. Rid­ing like the sec­ond-best cy­clist at the planet might not be too bad an op­tion for some peo­ple, I ar­gued.

The same goes for that mag­i­cal 180 steps per minute num­ber. Your ideal cadence is de­ter­mined by many fac­tors, most of which you’ve in­cor­po­rated into your run­ning style since you were a child. If your mus­cles are made up of more fast-twitch fi­bres – you were al­ways one of the speed­sters when it came to games or run­ning events – you are likely more com­fort­able with a quicker cadence. If you have longer legs, you might also be more in­clined to have a slightly slower cadence as your body sought to take ad­van­tage of a longer stride.

So, should you be wor­ried about your run cadence then? Ab­so­lutely.

The faster your feet can get to the ground, the faster you’re go­ing to go. When you’re run­ning, you only to gen­er­ate for­ward mo­tion when your foot is touch­ing the ground, so the more times you can get your foot on the ground to push you for­ward, the bet­ter off you’ll be. But that’s only a part of the equa­tion – the world’s best run­ners’ cadence can vary from as much as 172 to 212 steps per minute ac­cord­ing to some stud­ies, which means that there is a sweet spot for each and ev­ery one of us. The same goes for triath­letes. Watch the best run­ners in a triathlon field and it looks like they’re float­ing along, run­ning ef­fort­lessly and at a fast rhythm and tempo. Those who are strug­gling seem to labour at a much slower cadence – not only do they seem to be cov­er­ing less ground with each stride, they seem to take fewer of them.

This brings up an im­por­tant caveat to re­mem­ber when it comes to try­ing to run faster thanks to quicker cadence: If you’re not push­ing your­self for­ward ev­ery time you hit the ground, you’re not likely to see a huge dif­fer­ence if you sud­denly start mov­ing your legs quicker. That means that to get the most ben­e­fits from im­prov­ing your tempo, you need to en­sure your form is good, too. A for­ward lean with your hips in front of your feet and your shoul­ders in front of your hips is crit­i­cal if you are to get the most out of this mod­i­fi­ca­tion.

The best way to try and dial in your ideal run cadence is to start by fig­ur­ing out where you’re at now. If you don’t have a watch that will pro­vide that in­for­ma­tion for you, sim­ply count the num­ber of strides you take over a 15 sec­ond pe­riod and mul­ti­ply that num­ber by four. As a sim­ple test to see if what you’re do­ing is op­ti­mal, head to a track to do some self test­ing. Start by run­ning a few 400 m in­ter­vals (one lap of the track) at your cur­rent, com­fort­able cadence. Then see if you can up your cadence by a few strides per sec­ond and see how much faster you might go. Keep track of your per­ceived ex­er­tion, too – it doesn’t help to chop lots of time off that 400 split if you’re not go­ing to be able to sus­tain that pace dur­ing a race.

Some re­searchers sug­gest that im­prov­ing your cadence by five per cent is both at­tain­able and ben­e­fi­cial. Don’t try to get to that new cadence all at once, though. See if you can grad­u­ally work your way up to that higher num­ber with­out adding a lot of ef­fort and see if your times im­prove.—KM

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