• Total Physical Therapy

Runners, Why is 5% the Most Important Number You Need to Know?


Many runners are obsessed... let's say it again... OBSESSED with numbers. Distance, time, pace, miles, kilometers, volume, total mileage, heart rate, calories, number of macros, number of micros, cost of apparel... the list goes on and on. Some even pay attention to a term called cadence. If you have heard the term cadence, you might know what one should strive for but have you asked yourself, why?

Let us back up a bit and talk about the term cadence.

What Is Cadence?

Cadence is simply the number of steps you take in a one minute interval. To measure it try running for at least a minute to find your normal rhythm. Then count the number of times your right foot touches the ground in a 30 second interval. Multiply this number by four and you will have your cadence.

Cadence = (Number of steps of right foot in 30 seconds) X 4

We refer to this cadence as your conditioned cadence meaning your body is conditioned and programed to move at this speed. Your conditioned cadence is trainable and can be changed as needed. If one is concerned with increasing their speed/pace of a run then the following factors must be increased: 1. Power output 2. Rate of steps or 3. Both. While performance can improve with an increased cadence, we find there is another factor deeper to the heart of most runners, avoiding injury!

So, why are we concerned with cadence? This answer can be found deep into research, but you can leave that to us. We will summarize it for you. A faster cadence equates to the reduction of stress to the body. This equates to LESS LIKELIHOOD OF INJURY or a FASTER RECOVERY!!

The stress reduction is greatest at the knee but research shows a reduction to the following joints as well: the feet, hips, back, and BRAIN!!

What is a Good Cadence?

There is a general acceptance that most runners will fall around the 160 steps per minute cadence and elite athletes will fall in the 180+ steps per minute. The most successful runners in history have even been clocked 200+ steps per minute. Does this equate to saying that runners need to be 180+ steps per minute? Absolutely not. In fact, there is limited research available to suggest that even these values should be considered standards. They are purely observations over hundreds of thousands of runners. What the literature does support, however, is that increasing one's cadence by even 5% will reduce joint stress by as much as 20%. This phenomenon occurs chiefly by reducing one's stride length. Remember that conditioned cadence from the formula above? Let's take that cadence and multiply by 5%. For example, take a conditioned cadence of 160 steps per minute. A 5% increase would equate to a training cadence of 168 steps per minute (160 x 0.05 = 8; 160 + 8 = 168 spm). Now, this runner with a conditioned cadence of 160 spm should attempt to raise their average cadence to 168 spm for a base run.

You might quickly discover that raising your conditioned cadence by even 5% creates some rapid fatigue. If 5% doesn't do this then most assuredly 10% increase will set your heart and lungs blazing. This is due to the initial aerobic demand on your body. If your heart and lungs aren't conditioned well enough you will quickly send your body from an aerobic state into an anaerobic state (generally speaking over 80% age predicted maximum heart rate). This rapidly fatigues the body and discourages runners from attempting to raise and maintain cadence. Because of this potential deficiency, we recommend that a runner attempts to first perform interval work at cadence.

Try running for 5 minutes at your conditioned cadence +5% (CC+5%) then fall back to your conditioned cadence (CC) for 5 minutes. Repeat this cycle over the duration of your typical base run workout. On your next run try to run 6 minutes at your conditioned cadence +5% then fall back to your conditioned cadence for 4 minutes. Follow this pattern of add one minute to your CC+5% and subtract one minute from your CC until you can maintain CC+5% for the duration of your base run. Now you have created muscle memory to run at your new cadence and it's time for you to tackle another 5% for a total of CC+10%.

So now you should feel empowered to tackle a 5% increase in your cadence to reduce that joint stress by 20%!!

Happy Feet from TPT!

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Total Physical Therapy
3701 A1 Olsen Blvd 
Amarillo, TX
806 467-8181
806 467-8282 fax
Official Physical Therapy Center for the Amarillo Venom, Amarillo Bulls, and FC Amarillo Bombers

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Mon/Wed 8:00-6:00

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