Life Loves Rhythm
All events in Nature occur in cycles and rhythms. Some occur outside of us, such as the seasons, the lunar cycles, the rising and setting of the sun. And, some happen within us — our sleep cycles, our breath and heart rates, or the automatic tap our toes when we hear a catchy beat. We all tend to seek order in our lives: when faced with chaos and irregularity, we tend to feel ill at ease until order has been restored. Soft rhythms and rocking are often used to help soothe and calm agitated or overactive children. Rhythm is one of the fundamental elements of Life.
Rhythmical cadence and efficient stride length are twin pillars which support of the goals of energy efficiency and injury prevention in running. Maintaining a brisk cadence with a circular stride helps us reduce impact by avoiding heel strike, while minimizing the accumulation of metabolic waste products in the muscles, which accelerates fatigue.
Just as a cadence of 85-90 rpm is recommended for cycling, ChiRunning trains runners to achieve the same strides per minute (spm), measured by the number of steps taken by one leg for one minute. This range of 85-90 spm works for most runners (taller athletes will tend toward the lower end of the range) and is optimal for energy conservation because the rapid turnover of the legs helps the muscles to clear out lactic acid.
In addition to helping the leg muscles use available energy more efficiently, an even, relatively high cadence is useful in preventing injury. Quicker steps shorten the amount of time each foot spends on the ground, reducing the amount of impact and load-bearing sustained with each step.
When you watch other runners, you'll notice a difference between those with a slow stride versus those whose leg turnover is much quicker. A runner with a slower stride will appear more plodding and lopey, and most likely have more up and down motion than a runner whose feet move more quickly. Any unnecessary up and down motion while running wastes energy, because it doesn't contribute to your forward progress.
A long, slow stride is usually an indication that the runner is "reaching" with their leg, or overstriding. This will inevitably result in a heel strike, which is both inefficient (creating a braking motion with each stride) and potentially damaging, as heel strike is often a root cause of many knee and hip injuries in runners. Quicker strides help to keep the footfall under the body, producing a midfoot landing. This reduces the potential for lower leg overuse injuries such as shin splints, calf pulls and plantar fasciitis.
So, how do you get to a goal cadence of 85-90 spm? Begin by measuring your current cadence. One of the best training tools I've ever found is a small electronic metronome (available on the ChiRunning website) that make this task easy.
- Before heading out for a run, set the metronome to beep at 85 beats per minute (most runners fall below the 85-90 range).
- With the metronome turned off, begin running and settle into a comfortable, relaxed pace.
- After five minutes start the metronome and match the beep of the metronome to one of your legs by pressing either the increase or decrease button. When the metronome finally matches your cadence, you'll know what your normal cadence is.
- Once you have found your current cadence, run with the metronome for one week, practicing to match your foot strike to the metronome no matter what speed you're running.
This will train you to adjust your stride length to your speed (which involves relaxation) instead of increasing your cadence (which involves more muscle usage). After your initial week of matching the metronome, increase your cadence by one beat each week until you reach your desired cadence of 85-90.
Be sure to keep your cadence in the 85-90 range regardless of speed, even during warm up and cool down. When you run slowly your stride will be shorter and as your speed increases, your stride will lengthen. In this way your stride length will replicate the gears on your bike.
- Slower speed = smaller gear = shorter stride
- Faster speed = higher gear = longer stride.
Your cadence provides a constant, underlying rhythm that never changes.
In ChiRunning, you increase your speed by leaning more to run faster, not by increasing your cadence. This transfers the increased workload to your core muscles, not to your legs. (For a more in depth explanation please visit our website.)
If you feel somewhat self-conscious about running with a beeping metronome, you don’t have to leave it on all the time, especially once your body has begun to adapt to the change. You can turn it on at the beginning of your run to set your body’s rhythm, and then turn it off, checking in with it briefly every ten minutes or so throughout the remainder of your run.
Apply these principles to each of your runs and you will soon find your running more enjoyable and more in tune with your own natural rhythms.