Strengthening, Cadence and Kicks

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18 months ago I went for a running analysis with Barbara Brunner from Energy Lab BTS. She took onboard my medical history, including my anxiety about exercising my core after having a hernia operation in 2011. She then filmed me on a running machine, gradually increasing speed until I was at my limit.

As we watched the video playback Barbara showed me how my upper body was wobbling like a jelly because I lacked the core strength to support it. She explained that because I’d had a hernia I needed to strengthen the area. This made perfect sense, but I’d been too afraid to try anything for fear of a repeat. She devised a programme of core strengthening exercises to stabilise my upper body, so that I could put the energy saved into moving my legs more quickly.  She also delicately pointed out that “You run like Hulk”, and taught me to bring my elbows in when I run.

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When it came to my legs she said I was in better shape, but she wanted to work on my technique. I have a long stride length as I’m tall, but I needed to improve my cadence. Cadence is the number of steps you take per minute. I learned I should be taking over 180 but was taking 160. She compared slow-mo video of me running with slow-mo footage from the Olympic 10K final, so I could see what to aim for.

Core exercise became part of my routine and I began to consciously adapt my arm placement. I tried hard to improve cadence, but seemed to be getting nowhere. I bought a pedometer, but couldn’t manage to run even a mile at 180 foot strikes per minute. Thinking about it so much was taking the joy out of running, so after a year of trying I’d pretty much given up on ever improving. Then suddenly, after running a PB at the Berlin Half Marathon, I ran a 3 mile easy run at the required cadence. In retrospect, I was building up the physical strength to run a high-cadence style over that year while nothing appeared to be happening on the surface.

Running higher cadence asks more of your leg muscles, but because my form has improved, I’m a more efficient runner. I regularly do bodyweight training and yoga, and could see the benefits in the Berlin Half Marathon where I ran strong the whole way round, instead of fading over the last third. I set out to gain 10 pounds this year, which I’ve achieved, most of it in lean muscle, without supplements, through eating well and training. Consistency pays off.

I’m excited to see what benefits the increased cadence and strength will bring when I run Movember 10K and Paris Marathon over the next six months. I’ve run in Asics Gel Kayanos for years as I over-pronate. Now I want to find a shoe that better supports my developing running style but am not sure where to start. Let me know if you have any tips.

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3 thoughts on “Strengthening, Cadence and Kicks

  1. Good post Chris. As someone who has run in minimalists shoes for five or six years, I feel fairly well qualified to give some advice. Now, its brilliant that you have raised your cadence, for the more often your feet strike the ground, the less time you spend on it. High cadence, lower impact forces, and hopefully more speed and less injuries. And, a lower drop shoe will aid turnover as the heel can get in the way during a mid-foot strike. I’m pretty sure I’ve noticed that you have a mid-foot strike too.

    However, you can rush out in your zero drop shoes just yet. The Gel Kyanos will have a pretty significant differential between the mid foot and the heel (drop). It varies from model to model but they could have as much as 22mm. They also have a decent amount of cushioning and stability. This will mean that your lower leg muscles are well adapted to the drop, cushioning and stability they provide. Like doing any new exercise, making a big jump too quickly will be uncomfortable at best and injury inducing at worst. By moving to a mid foot running style you should have reduced the need for a lot of the stability in the shoe (suprination/over-pronation occurs at the heel strike) which is good. However, as you reduce the drop you will ask your achilles tendon, soleus and calves to work harder. Simplistically, if you reduce the drop of your shoe by 10mm, you will be asking your achilles to lengthen by 10mm to compensate so that your heel touches the ground. Doesnt sound like much but believe me this is a big ask.

    So, in a long winded way, I am saying that you need to begin strength and conditioning 2.0. The core continues but some focus needs to be given on the lower legs and foot muscles which having been encased in a metaphorical ‘cast’ will be weak and under-developed. The extent to which they are underdeveloped will be based on many things, including how much time you spend barefoot or in shoes with little to no support. S&C 2.0 can begin today by walking around as much as you can in bare feet. No socks. Just allowing your feet to spread. Specific foot strengthening exercise could also be done to accelerate the process – easily found on the web. Shoes can come next and there are a huge number of options. Personally, and this wont be popular with the Nike fan boys, I believe Newton offer a very good range of shoes for those looking to move to a more efficient running style. They have a range of different drop (Pop 1, Pop 2 and Pop 3) which offers runners different levels of raciness, yet all are lightweight compared to the Kyanos. Their patented lugs system also promotes the mid-foot strike. IMO they are a great shoe for those looking to transition to more minimalist shoes.

    Finally, and apologies for the long post, small and often. Once you have the shoes, start with one mile, three times a week. Then gradually increase the distance and frequency. You might need to take them with you on runs and put them on for the first/last miles. Think of it, like your original core issue, as a long term project. Don’t rush it. You are running well already, so think of this as a project to get free speed. It’ll take time but it’s worth it. Once you have conditioned to a lower drop, say 8mm, then dropping further to something like 4mm is an altogether easier process – though still requires a gentle approach.

    If this doesn’t make sense or you want to discuss further speak to me at RDC.

  2. James, that’s absolutely awesome- just the sort of feedback I wanted. I’m certainly not expecting to transition quickly, and I love thinking of it as S&C 2.0. Will look into a new pair of kicks and very gently introduce them as you suggest. Thank you.

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