Finding Perfect Run Cadence
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Recently, I held a contest on my Facebook page, Hal Higdon’s Marathon, asking for questions to be answered here in my Weekly Q&A. Out of nearly 400 responses, I chose three winners, this one coming from Lisa Mattson Gibbs.
I went through physical therapy for gluteus minimus tendonitis this summer, and increasing my cadence seemed to help. They say 180 beats per minute is optimal. Is that true for everyone? If not, how do I figure out my optimal cadence?
Whenever someone tells me “they say,” I always wonder who the “they” might be. Sometimes advice given in this matter serves as Conventional Wisdom, which may either be spot-on or decidedly wrong. And even the spot-on advice may not work for everybody. Would 180 bpm be the perfect cadence for you? Maybe, and maybe not.
But that’s the magic number. You can even go on the Internet and find websites willing to sell you 180 bpm songs. I am not a big fan of changing cadence, believing that as runners continue to train (and race), they eventually will find the cadence that works best for them. A knowledgeable coach may be able to speed things, or maybe not.
Some years ago I wrote an article for The Runner Magazine on this very subject and spent several days being tested on a treadmill at the Nike Sports Lab in Exeter, New Hampshire under the supervision of Ned Frederick, Ph.D. I ran hooked up to a machine that measured my heart rate, while breathing into tubes that led to a second machine measuring oxygen consumption. The scientists hovering around me attached black dots to various parts of my leg so they could analyze whatever they needed to analyze.
Afterwards, Ned was able to identify my natural cadence as (if memory serves me correctly) 192 bpm, but I proved a more efficient runner at 196 bpm. “Should I try to increase cadence?” I asked. Ned responded, “No, you probably run that way for natural reasons, possibly to protect against injury.”
Machines are marvelous, but the human mind works better. You can experiment with cadence changes to attain the Magic 180, when you are in synch with the music, but be cautious about forcing your stride and doing more harm than good.