5 tips to reduce overstriding and increase running cadence

Reducing overstriding and increasing your running cadence can improve your running performance, running efficiency, and decrease your risk of injury.

They are what I call "low-hanging fruit" - relatively easy to modify, with a big pay-off.  More often than not, overstriding and running cadence are the first things I'll work on with any running client - I've seen it clear up a lot of nagging problems and aches.

To find out why overstriding is detrimental to your running, read my post from last week - heel strike isn't the problem, overstriding is. 

In this post, I go through 5 tips you can use to reduce overstriding & increase your running cadence. 

I. What is overstriding and running cadence?

Overstriding is when your foot contacts the ground (called the "initial contact" phase) far ahead of your center of mass (your hips).  This is what it looks like:

 Overstriding and a decreased running cadence.  Credit: Fellrnr.com

Overstriding and a decreased running cadence.  Credit: Fellrnr.com

 

Running cadence is a measure of how many steps you're taking per minute. Less steps equals a longer stride length and vice-versa - it's an inverse relationship. 

How do I figure out if I'm overstriding?

The first tip is to figure out if you're overstriding in the first place.  An easy way to do this is by figuring out your running cadence. 

Here's how:

  1. While running at a moderate pace, pick either your left or right foot and count how many times it hits the ground over the course of 1 minute.
  2. Multiply that number by 2 to get your strides per minute (spm).  This is your running cadence.

Generally, a running cadence of less than 160 indicates that you're overstriding. Don't fret - the average recreational runner has a running cadence ranging from 150-170 spm.

II. Got it - how do I increase my running cadence?

The target for running cadence is at least 180 spm.  I put "at least" in bold because there's a lot of misinformation regarding an "ideal" running cadence of 180.  That's not true and is based on a misquoting of a famous study by legendary running coach Jack Daniels (cue a joke of the whisky variety). 

Don't pigeonhole yourself in trying to peg your running cadence at exactly 180.  It's unfortunately a pervasive running myth and I've seen many runners worried way too much about that number. 

With that mind, here are the tips to safely and effectively increase your running cadence:

1 - Increase running cadence by 5 to 10% at a time

Increase your cadence by 5 to 10% at a time (I err on the side of caution and normally recommend a 5% increase at a time). This small incremental change allows your body and mind to adapt appropriately and safely.

  • Your muscles need to adapt to the different loads being put on them. For example, with a shorter stride your knee will be more flexed when it touches the ground and your quads have to eccentrically control the flexion. This isn't a bad thing as this is what the quads were intended to do but they still need time to acclimate. 
  • Your neuro-motor system needs time to get used to a new running pattern. You may feel “weird” when you’re first implementing the change because your neuronal pathways are used to a different pattern. However, over time, the new running pattern becomes the subconscious new normal.
  • Additionally, this 5-10% increase has been shown to NOT increase your energy expenditure either.

2 - Start with shorter distances

At first, implement the new shorter stride at small parts of your run - I suggest using a metronome.

For example, if you’re running 10 miles, run with the new stride using the metronome for 1/2 a mile after every 3 miles. As you get more comfortable, you increase that amount - as in the last point, this incremental change allows for incremental body and mind adaptation.

I’ll have my running clients intermittently run on a treadmill solely to work on the new shorter stride as you don’t have to worry about other variables.

3- Use the cue "chop your steps"

Try using this cue:  “chop your steps” in order to help implement & remind yourself of the shorter stride.

This came up when a running client told me it felt like he was chopping his steps so I started trying it with other clients - to great success.

Additionally,  add the cue “land soft”.  This helps control the lower limb and foot to accept the ground softly rather than hitting heavy/hard and absorbing greater force.

I've found it helpful to use these cues as a repeatable mantra at first - "chop your steps, land soft, chop your steps, land soft" - creating a rhythm while reminding your mind & body of the new pattern. As the new pattern becomes the new normal, the cues fade away. 

4 - Visualize the shorter stride and soft landing

Before any run (or during), visualize yourself running with the shorter stride and soft landing.

We know visualization can prime the system for a specific movement and help with motor learning because it directly activates your motor cortex. This helps with learning a new skill and motor pattern.


With these five tips, you should be able to reduce overstriding and increase your running cadence. I've seen these changes clear up nagging aches & pains while improving running performance.

If you have any more questions or want to a have a more detailed conversation, feel free to reach out to me and we'll come up with a personalized strategy. 

Thanks for reading, until next time.


If you're looking to improve your running and prevent injury or you're just fed up with aches, pains, injury, or stress - we'd love to help. Click the button below to discuss your questions & issues with Dr. Rajpal Brar, Doctor of Physical Therapy.  Together, we'll come up with a game plan to reach & surpass your goals.