Lets talk about cadence for a moment.
This is the term for how many steps you take per minute.
At RunReal.com, we recommend 180 steps per minute as a benchmark.
It's easy to determine your current stride rate by counting how many times your right leg touches the ground, in one minute. It is important to know that stride rate will depend on a large variety of factors, mainly terrain and speed.
Benefits of a higher cadence
The main benefit of a higher cadence is that it prevents overstriding, or making initial ground contact well in front of your center of gravity. Overstriding is often done with a very dorsi flexed ankle and a straightened leg.
Through this decrease in overstriding, a higher cadence reduces energy absorbed by the knee and hip. Step length, up and down body movement, braking, and peak knee flexion angle all decreased with an increased step rate.
How to improve
The first step is to determine what your cadence actually is. Once in a while during a training run, count how many times your right foot hits the ground in a minute, and double that. If you do find your cadence is a bit low, gradual changes over a longer period of time are the best. Try experimenting and find out what a cadence of only 5-10 more steps per minute feels like, and practice this. Over time, you'll end up doing it automatically.
There are also tools that can be used, such as smart phone applications that match music beat to cadence. A couple neat ones are JogTunes and Cruise Control. A good old fashioned metronome can also be set at a cadence and followed along with.
Why is this important
Increasing your cadence is possibly the easiest way to instantly speed up. This can be during a tempo or long run when you are feeling fatigued or during the final quarter mile of a 5k. Instead of thinking "speed up", just think about increasing your cadence. Haile Gebrselassie has been seen increasing his cadence to as high as 240 steps per minute at the end of a 10k!
And like we mentioned above, a higher cadence is a great way to decrease overstriding and the negative consequences of this. On flat ground at your habitual speed, stepping less than 160 times per minute means you are probably overstriding.
While it will always come down to the individual, cadence is simply another weapon in your arsenal to become a faster and healthier runner!