All mileage is not created equal. Pace and conditions are common considerations but Max Paquette, a biomechanist and sports scientist, suggests that considering cadence might be just as important as those two factors. Cadence is often overlooked, but it’s a very important variable when it comes to measuring the difficulty of kilometres run. Cadence refers to the number of steps a runner takes per minute and it’s an aspect of training that runners and coaches are starting to pay more attention to.
Considerations for prescribing same mileage to different runners. Data for thought…
*Note the aggressive difference in cadence, likely closer to 3-6 steps/min for runners of similar height and age -> amplifies the weekly differences . pic.twitter.com/XxA7rcVvys
— Max Paquette (@BiomechMax) June 18, 2020
Cadence makes a difference
The above table shows the vast difference that a discrepancy of 10 steps can make. Runner one takes 180 steps per minute and runner two takes 170. They each run 60 miles a week, but runner two’s body has to work much harder to cover the same distance.
At first glance, this doesn’t seem like a big difference, but over the course of a week, taking 10 less steps a minute added up to an extra 75 minutes of running. That’s like adding a long run to someone’s program for no reason. That extra 75 minutes of running also adds nine per cent more tibial shock (stress on the shins) and five per cent more force.
A case for measuring using minutes
This small difference can make a big impact over the course of weeks, months and years of training. While measuring training by kilometres covered is the most common metric, Paquette’s table suggests that measuring using time might be the way to go. Running for time can alleviate the tendency to fixate on a certain number of kilometres per week and allow the runner to focus on how their body is feeling instead.
Runners who are very focussed on the weekly accumulation of miles may neglect to consider the intensity their bodies are working at and accidentally overdo it.
How to measure your cadence
This research isn’t suggesting that runners alter their cadence, but rather, they use it as a training metric like distance, time or heart rate. If you’re interested in checking on your steps per minute, there are a few simple ways. First, you can simply count the steps you take on one foot for 30 seconds and then double it.
A slightly more sophisticated way is to use the data from a foot pod or your running shoes. Most companies that make GPS watches are now also making foot pod accompaniments which measure everything from stride length to cadence. Some running shoes brands, like Under Armour, have place chips in their shoes to measure the same thing and provide the wearer with training insights.
Runners don’t need to become fixated on cadence, but rather check in on it a few times a season. After all, it’s always better to be careful than injured.