Over the past several years, a wealth of research has emerged pertaining to the myriad of benefits of step rate (AKA cadence) manipulation when addressing various running related injuries (RRIs) and lower extremity pain.
The fundamental principle behind step rate manipulation is that by keeping running velocity/speed constant and taking more steps per minute, one is able to effectively reduce their stride length, and in turn the magnitude of each individual loading cycles at the expense of taking more loading cycles. This is readily apparent when stopping to consider the following equation.
Speed= Stride length X Stride frequency
Furthermore, research shows that music serves as a great external auditory cue, especially for endurance athletes, as it results in spontaneous entrainment to the tempo or beat with a greater effect noted in women. One approach to help you apply step rate manipulation to your running involves making use of the RunCadence and Spotify App.
Below I will take you through how to use the combination of these Apps to reduce the magnitude of loading of each individual gait cycle if that is indeed the desired goal. Research has shown that as little as a five percent increase in step rate while keeping running velocity constant can reduce shock absorption at the level of the knee by upwards of 20 percent. That’s astronomical!!!
It should be noted, however, that the information presented in this post should not suffice nor serve as a substitute for professional medical advice in the event you are dealing with pain and/or functional limitations. In such instances, we advise you to seek consultation with a trusted medical provider, who specializes in the rehabilitation of runners.
- Calibrated Treadmill
- Iphone with the RunCadence App
- Spotify App
Let’s Get Started
The first item of business it to determine your step rate or cadence for a given running velocity. To do this, you will have to complete a one-minute test. We suggest conducting this on a treadmill to obtain the most accurate results provided that you are comfortable running on a rotating belt. This is where the RunCadence app comes into play. Prior to completing the test we encourage folks to start with a 5′ brisk walk followed by a 6′ run to get familiarized with the treadmill. From there, stand on the runners of the treadmill and open up the RunCadence App (assuming it’s already been downloaded) on your smartphone and click “TEST.” You will be given a 5s countdown before the test officially starts though we encourage folks to start running once the countdown ensues to settle into your running gait. You will have to hold the phone in your hand for the duration of the test. To avoid compromising the accuracy of the test, we encourage you to avoid looking at the timer on the App. Rather, simply use the treadmill timer and make a note of when you start the test and plan for 70-75s of continuous running to ensure that you fully capture your foot contacts for the entire minute.
How to Determine Your Step Rate for a Given Speed Using The RunCadence App:
Tap the RunCadence App
Run for 1′ w/ phone in hand
Once you have finished the one-minute test, this screen will appear which shows your average step rate as well as +2.5, +5, +7.5, and +10% above your avg step rate. We generally recommend starting with +5% when it comes to gait retraining. This is the value that you will plug in to the Spotify app when prompted. We’ll cover this in more detail below. In the event that you are able to readily adopt the +5% step rate, feel free to increase it to +7.5% if not +10%. While you can increase your step rate above 10%, apppreciate that doing so occurs at a great metabolic cost.
Once you have downloaded Spotify from the app store, simply tap the icon to open it.
When the homescreen of the Spotify app appears, tap the search button centrally located at the bottom of the screen.
In the searchbox, type in “running” then click the search button at the bottom of the screen.
Scroll down until you see “Genres & Moods.” Tap the icon with the running man.
You will have the option to select various types of music so pick the one that suits your fancy 🙂 We often encourage folks to select a style of music with a distinct beat as it lends to better sychronization in terms of your foot contacts.
When you arrive at this screen and are prompted to start running, simply click the “skip” button at the bottom of the screeen and plug in the value obtained from using the RunCadence Test. Consider starting with the “+5%” value.
You are ready to roll/run! Aside from periodic advertisements, you will now have a continuous playlist based on the beat frequency you plugged in. Bear in mind that maintaining a consistent/steady step rate for a given running speed is most easily accomplished on level ground. Hills and softer surfaces may cause you to deviate from the target.
Wishing you HAPPY, HEALTHY, & STRONG Training. Please reach out if you have any additional questions regarding how step rate can be applied to your training. Onward!!!
Disclosure: RunCadence is a for profit IOS App that I developed along with my good friend and business partner, Ben Wobker. It is currently priced at $2.99 and can be found on the App store.
I recently received a call from a young guy (late twenties), who was recommended by his friend to contact me as he was in need of acute post-operative rehabilitation following a recent knee menisectomy. Upon asking him, “What instructions were you given to manage your situation until your first follow-up appointment with the doc?” He responded by listing off the following recommendations given by the physician’s assistant (PA)…
- Take pain pills as needed (prescription for 40 percocet)
- Don’t do anything that hurts or causes pain
- Don’t bend your knee past 90 degrees
This represents a microcosm of our current state of affairs in relation to pain management and opioid addiction. The potential societal repercussions of this situation are disconcerting. Im hopeful we can do better!
“The S’s of Treadmill Running Analysis”
Perhaps one of the biggest mistakes I made during my early years as a physical therapist was not taking the time watch runners run. Invariably, this led to a short-sighted perspective, hasty decision making, and suboptimal outcomes for those runners seeking my care. While I was generally effective in helping runners reduce their pain and symptoms and get them back to their usual activities in the short term, they seemed to consistently experience pushback when attemtping to return to consistent training. Needless to say, I was obviously missing something, and quickly realized that my affinity to run had little to do with my ability to help runners aside from perhaps getting buy in from looking the part. Ultimately, this put me on a quest to demystify the performance demands of running so I could be in the best possible position to help runners seeking my services. After spending countless hours reading and contemplating the available literature, it became readily apparent that running is a hierarchical skill relative to most activities meaning that taking the time to watch someone run is critical before discharging them from your care. There also seems to be a set of common denominators or factors that deserve particular attention when conducting a running analysis. I like to refer to these as “The S’s of Treadmill Analysis.”
- Strike – footstrike
- Sound – sound of ground contact
- Step Rate – AKA cadence
- Speed – running velocity
- Shoes – impact of footwear
- Slope – incline or decline
- Swing – arm & leg swing
The purpose of this guide to provide clinicians and health professionals with a simple and practical framework to approach conducting a TM running analysis while learning how to interpret and apply the results in real time. By enhancing one’s understanding of running and gait retraining, loads can effectively be shifted away from sensitized or pathologic tissue while demonstrating to patients that their running related pain is malleable, and can be lessened by manipulating specific aspects of their gait. Having runners experience a rapid improvement in their symptoms through simple gait retraining has the potential to enhance a runner’s expectations and confidence with treatment, which ultimately lends to a better outcome.
While one might argue that certain characteristics are missing from this list, I feel that clinicians can effectively intervene through these variables. I hope that this guide proves invaluable in helping you demystify TM running analysis and gait retraining in an effort to assist with migrating runners out of the medical system and back to STRONG, HEALTHY, and CONSISTENT running. Onward!!!
To leaern more and to purchase this guide, follow this LINK. Thanks in advance for your support and hope this proves to be an invaluable resource. Happy Holidays!
One of the many mantras that I recite in working with runners is that “Running is about rhythm and timing.” Along these lines, If there was only one exercise that I could give to a runner following a running related injury (RRI) to safely return them to training, it would most likely be metronome marching. Having spent considerable time practicing this drill, I can say that it is arguably the ultimate form of graded exposure while taking advantage of the use of an external auditory cue (silent in the vid).
The slower beat frequencies effectively serve to mitigate threat and demand the runner to load through each leg while forcing them to audit their motion. As the speed of movement increases so do the coordination requirements. Additionally, as you start to work above 100+ bpm, the runner must also naturally contact the ground with greater force. Lastly, and most importantly, every runner will hit a point at which they invariably start to adopt a float phase, which is what differentiates running from walking. So, have a practice and let me know what you think. Also, take note of the fact that when I go to contact the ground I do so with the forefoot before gently kissing the heel to the floor. This is not because I think forefoot striking is superior, but rather because it automatically reduces one’s step length, which has been shown to yield distinct benefits in addressing common RRIs. In retrospect, this drill blends pain science fundamentals, gait retraining, and cueing with the performance demands of running.
If you are looking to enjoy improved outcomes in working with runners, remember that I will also be launching “The Runner’s Zone on Tues, November 15th. I am determined to make this the premier online learning platform related to running. Click HERE to reserve your spot now!
Two of my favorite drills, which I routinely incorporate into exercise programs for runners, are the hip airplane and step up. I was recently performing these exercises as part of daily training session when I suddenly thought, “Why in the hell am I not combining these two exercises?” Having come to this realization, I naturally recorded it to share it with the online community. I love drills of this nature because they are directly relevant to running while relying on minimal to no equipment yet create a unique challenge. All you need is a stair, stepper, or cinder block and you are in business. Irrespective of where you fall on the running spectrum in terms of age and ability, I’d suggest having a practice. See you on the streets and good luck to all those racing the NYC marathon this upcoming weekend.