Want to Reduce Injury Risk? Increase Your Running Cadence

Running Cadence

I ignored the knee pain when it first started – the pain was barely noticeable. It was probably just some phantom soreness after a hard run.

I still wasn’t too concerned when I felt the pain again the next day during a run.  This time it was a bit more localized on my inner knee, but I really did not want to take a day off and disrupt my training.

About 20 minutes into the run on the third day, I realized that I had developed a legitimate case of runner’s knee. The pain was pretty intense. After the run, I had a tough time bending my knee without pain and heard the dreaded “cracking” sound when I tried bending the knee joint.

Since my first experience with runner’s knee about two months ago, I have been working hard to find a way to get over this injury hurdle and get back to pain-free running.

I happy to report that, although I’m not 100%, my knee is feeling much better.  I attribute my improvement to two things:

  • Diligently completing the hip exercises from the RunnersConnect Strength Training program twice per day – especially the clam shell exercises and side-lying hip abduction exercises, and
  • Speeding up my running cadence. I haven’t spoken about cadence yet on the blog, so let me give a brief explanation.

What is Cadence?

Cadence simply refers to how often a runner’s feet hit the ground.  For example, if your feet hit the ground 160 times in one minute, you have a running cadence of 160.

This number may not seem like a big deal, but a low cadence may signal that a runner is over striding and subjecting his or her lower body to increased and unnecessary impact forces.  Based on research by the famed running coach, Jack Daniels, the optimal running cadence is about 180.

In dealing with my knee pain, I discovered that I had a cadence of about 150. Although I don’t think my slow stride was the sole reason for my knee pain, the increased impact force on my lower leg from the low cadence certainly exacerbated my pain.

After discovering my low cadence, I immediately worked to increase my turnover rate and get up to the 180 number.  It was incredibly awkward at first – I was putting each foot down so fast that it felt like my shoelaces were tied together.  However, by my third and fourth run, my knee actually started to feel better.

How to Measure Cadence

The easiest way to measure cadence is to use a running watch such as the Garmin Forerunner 310xt (with a foot pod).  With a foot pod tied to your running shoes, Garmin and other running watches will give you a real time read on your specific cadence.

Although I have a Forerunner 310xt, I have not yet purchased a foot pod, so I am measuring my cadence the old fashioned way: counting my steps. Here’s how I do it:

  1. Every mile or so, I glance at my watch and notice the specific time
  2. For thirty seconds, I count each time my left foot hits the ground
  3. I then double this number to account for my other foot (i.e. if my left foot hit the ground 45 times, my cadence for 30 seconds if 90).
  4. Then double the number for both feet to get my cadence for a minute (i.e. 45 times for my left, doubled to 90 for both feet, doubled to 180 for one minute).

Again, the goal is to be at around 180 per minute.  If I am below this number, I make a conscious effort to pick my feet up faster.

That’s all there is to it.

Unfortunately, my effort to increase running cadence has not helped my trapezius pain, but I hope that a visit to a physical therapist this week will help.


Trapezius Pain: A New Threat to My Running Goals
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  1. Darlene says:

    I’m glad to hear you’re making a visit to the PT’s office. My knee injury has finally improved to back over 5.5 mile (pre-injury I was over 8). Had I not elected to get a second opinion froma sports medical physician, I’d have continued to do damage, believing I was doing all the right things. Part of my injury is due to the discovery that my right leg is 3/8″ shutter than my left. Coupled with a weak IT band and vmo, I had some real issues that are modified and clearing up. Good luck to you :)

    • Thanks Darlene! I am hopeful that the PT will give me some ideas about how to clear up my injury issues. It is certainly frustrating to deal with pain when running, but hopefully I come out of all of this a better and stronger runner. Best of luck with your running!

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