Friday, July 15, 2011

Cadence Drill

One of our favorite exercises to gauge running form is a cadence drill. Physical Therapist and runner Rachel Miller introduced us to the importance of cadence (Rachel conducts running stride clinics which we highly recommend for all runners), and we go over this exercise with all of our runners.

Running cadence is also referred to as stride rate, and is the number of steps you take per minute when running. Based on studies of elite runners, ideal cadence is 180-190 steps per minute (or about 3 steps per second). We know, you’re thinking “but I’m not an elite runner.” However, this number is helpful for beginner runners, as well, as you increase your cadence, your body will naturally fall towards proper running form. A faster turnover forces a shorter stride, so that feet stay underneath the body as opposed to the overreaching stride (loping) common with slower cadence. With a slower cadence, you are wasting more energy vertically by “bounding” where more energy should go towards horizontal momentum. This over striding leads to landing on your heels (heel striking) which sends shock waves up your legs and can lead to all types of injuries. By concentrating on a higher cadence, you should tend to shorten your stride, stay light on your feet, low to the ground and in an upright position (leaning too far forward reduces your legs’ freedom of motion and slows cadence).

To determine your current cadence, and work on gradually increasing your turnover, try this exercise next time you are out for one of your workouts:

Choose a smooth, flat surface. After warming up and during one of the run intervals, count the number of times your right foot hits the ground in 60 seconds. If you multiply this by 2, you will have your cadence (double to account for both feet). Next, repeat the same exercise, running for 60 seconds and again counting the number of times your right foot hits the ground. This time, though, try to increase the number of right foot push-offs by 1-3 steps. Follow up with a slow recovery jog or walk before repeating the exercise again—do this two to four times total. Each time you run, try to continue increasing your push-offs by 1-3 counts until you are no longer running comfortably. At that point, back off the cadence and if you have any repeats remaining, maintain the number that allowed you to stay relaxed while still using a faster turnover.

Do this exercise one or two times a week to help your body get used to running at a higher cadence. Don’t try to get your cadence up to the ideal of 180 in one session—or even at all. It can take 1-3 months to feel comfortable at 180, but after 2-4 weeks of increasing cadence just a little bit, it should feel more natural. As with our training programs, slight gradual increases will help your body reset its running metronome at a faster beat over time!

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Let the Kids Run!

Over the past few months, we've had the privilege to work with several budding runners under the age of 13, from young runners just starting to race at the 5K level, to soccer stars working on improving their 2-mile run time, to summer campers at the JCC of Greater Washington participating in the Kids Run the Nation elective. We love working with kids, as they are eager to learn and full of contagious energy! Running can help kids develop self-esteem, an increased interest in healthy habits and improve their stamina for other sports and an active life in general.

Contrary to popular belief, there is no evidence that running high mileage will damage young children. As this article explains, kids who train smart (progressive overload, plenty of rest and recovery, moderate intensity) are no more prone to injury than adults training at longer distances. As with all sports, it is important that the child (and not the parents) is the one who has the interest in and drive to pursuse running, but for kids who truly enjoy running, there is no evidence of a specific "cap" on their mileage.

Here are some general guidelines we use whenever we work with kids who love to run:

  • The emphasis should be on FUN, with lots of games and unstructured play. A centipede run (where kids run in a line, pass a baton to the back of the line, and have the last person in line sprint the baton to the front of the line, beginning the pass-back again), obstacle course or game of tag are all great ways to help kids learn pacing.

  • Utilize drills (again, fun) that teach fundamental athletic skills, such as body awareness, coordination, balance, agility and good form- we think exercises like "bang the drums," "foot fire," and "bad form/good form" are fun ways to teach kids fundamentals of form early in their running careers.

  • For kids who want to run longer distances, incorporate more slow, long runs over intense interval training.

  • Encourage kids to become well-rounded by participating in a variety of activities, which enables them to develop skills and strengths that compliment running.

  • Make sure kids are wearing proper footwear- a specialty running shoe store can help you choose the right shoe for a child's biomechanics.

  • Teach kids about healthy eating habits and the importance of food as fuel, as well as proper hydration.
Kids who love to run tend to set a great example for their peers (and adults!) and grow up to be healthy, active adults. Grab your favorite kids and go out for a run today!