Friday, November 30, 2012

Good Form Running: 180 Steps Per Minute

Winters is upon us here in Central Oregon and with it comes cooler days, snow covered trails, and the end to a busy racing season. Without the pressure of your next track workout or hill repeats looming, winter is also a great time to get back to basics. Now is a great time to jump into a Good Form Running class, and set yourself up for the rest of the winter. Working on technique now can pay big dividends down the road, keeping you injury free and running faster than ever come next spring.

One of the big things we talk about with Good Form Running is the importance of cadence. I’m sure you’ve all heard it before, that 180 steps per minute is the magic number. But why is that the case?

As a PT who works with people who have a variety of musculo-skeletal and neuro-muscular issues, I am always looking for the one little thing that can alleviate many of the patient’s symptoms. Think about it, if I can have you do one thing, and it takes care of three of your symptoms, you are psyched because you only have to remember one thing.  I am psyched because I know, with only one thing to concentrate on, you will get better, quicker. These kinds of situations don’t come around very often, but with running, the 180 steps per minute is one of those times!

We know that there are four things that are the hallmark of a good runner. Decreased vertical displacement (up and down movement), decreased impact force when your foot hits the ground, decreased contact time, and 180 steps per minute.  What is great, is that when you run at 180 steps per minute, all of those other variables start to fall into place.

But why is that? The best way for me to describe it is to talk about a subject that is near and dear to my heart, Physics. Wave physics, to be precise. We know that as you increase the frequency of a wave, eventually, you will get closer to a flat line.  The 180 steps per minute is the frequency at which your vertical displacement minimizes. Flat head equals faster running. Sweet!

Flat head also equates to decreased impact force. When your foot hits the ground, the forces transmitted through the body are many times your body weight. Well, think about yourself bobbing down the trail, with 2-3 inches of vertical displacement. The impact forces increase exponentially. By running at 180 steps per minute, vertical displacement decreases, impact forces decrease, you run faster! Bonus!

Last, but not least, the 180 steps per minute results in decreased contact time. Seems like common sense, eh? Faster cadence results in less contact for each foot. It is pretty simple. However, when you dig deeper, thinking about how that increased cadence is achieved, leads to a better understanding of what running really is, mechanically. To maintain 180 steps per minute, you have to actually flex your hips (bring your knees up) and not pay as much attention to forcefully extending your legs to drive yourself forward. Running is similar to walking, and to walk, you lift your leg at the hip and place it forward. When running becomes an extension based activity, it is almost impossible to maintain 180 steps per minute because the leg is left too far behind. With that extension, you also see increased vertical displacement, increased impact force, and less than 180 steps per minute. Not to mention poor abdominal and pelvic stability with running, hamstring and calf issues, Achilles tendonitis, etc.  Think about running more like a sprinter (mechanically, of course), even though you are a half marathoner, and you will maintain 180 steps per minute, even while running a 12 minute mile.

So there you have it! The silver bullet is 180 steps per minute. Get out there, give it a shot, see what you think.  You can even get an app that will overlay the 180 beat over your music. If that doesn’t drive you crazy, nothing will J  Cheers! - Dave

Written by: David Cieslowski, DPT
Join Dave for Good Form Running Clinic Level 2, Tuesday, December 4th at FootZone.

Dave’s love of snow and cross-country ski racing brought him west from New England to Park City, Utah. While in Park City, Dave continued to ski race and teach. With continued success as a cross-country racer, Dave raced for XC Oregon from ’99 until ’05 and was very competitive in both local and national level races. Dave also participated in multiple bike and adventure races. Picking up where he left off in Park City, Dave worked for various outdoor entities in Bend while remaining active in the Nordic ski community. After graduating with distinction from PT school at Pacific University in Portland, Dave returned to Bend with his family, excited to be involved in the central Oregon community.


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