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This discussion makes me so happy because this means you are focusing on good running mechanics!
Thus it is just a clarification situation. You want to target a cadence of 90 (or higher) steps per minute PER FOOT or 180 (or higher) steps per minute BOTH FEET. Why? You will see many thought leaders say that cadence shouldn’t matter that everyone has their own gait. However the purpose of using cadence or turnover as a guiding point is so we can achieve the mechanics that you are landing UNDER your hips (or center of mass) not the least little bit in front of it. The further in front of your hips that you land, the more likely you are to heal strike, as well as increase your risk for injury. Thus this is why focusing on where you strike does matter.
That said, for most of us, we are trying to change 20, 30 or maybe even 40 years of ingrained running form. So, yes, it’s a big (often long) undertaking. What I recommend is start working on these drills in a static manner (in front of a mirror) as it will be easier to achieve the parts before trying to integrate them in a dynamic manner like running.
Here are the drills that I recommend. If the weather is crappy (or not), you now have a challenging indoor workout 🙂 Sorry for the formatting…
RUNNING FORM DRILLS
1.Stand in front of a mirror and practice swinging your arms. They should be comfortably at a 90-degree angle and swing them like a pendulum, 45 degrees forward and 45 degrees back. Shoulders down away from your head/chin. Increase the speed so that you can see your upper body relax. Once you do, then slow it down to get the right pace (but maintaining the positioning and rhythm). Build up so your arms feel comfortable swinging at a cadence of 90+ repetitions per minute (one arm) or 180 repetitions per minute (both arms). Your arms are as important, if not more important than your feet, as they dictate what your feet do. Since your feet follow your arm cadence, don’t overlook or discredit them as an important part of the equation. In fact, come race day when your legs fatigue, concentrate on swinging your arms and your fatigued legs will follow!
Here is a great video by Coach Bobby McGee that will walk you through how to practice effective arm swing: Arm Swing Drills
2. Still in front of the mirror, practice jogging in place. Download a free metronome app on your smartphone or use the metronome build into your Garmin (Newer, specific models only. Check your manual for availability with your model). Set it to 90 rpms. Some athletes find it challenging to strike to 90 steps per minute. Instead, they prefer setting the metronome to 180 steps per minute. Whatever works best for you, keep jogging in place to this cadence. While running in place, get comfortable with your cadence, where you land in proportion to the rest of your body (i.e. under your center of mass) and where you land on your foot (i.e. mid to ball of foot). Running in place emulates ideal running form! Then as you get comfortable with this part of the drill, add in your arms. Remember to keep your arm swing nice and comfortable not rigid and restricting.
3. To reiterate, these drills address several things. First off, they allow you to focus on efficient running cadence (90 steps per minute per foot). They also teach you where you should strike on the bottom of your foot when running (land mid-foot to the balls of your feet, roll and push off with the toes). Finally, when running in place, this is where your feet should land in relation to your body position (under your hips, not in front of you). This is how you learn to shorten your stride to obtain ideal running cadence and ingrain effective, efficient running form. You do not get faster by increasing your stride length BUT by decreasing it! Now that you have a strong understanding of optimal form, continue to run in place to the metronome set to 90 steps per minute (one foot). Adding in your arms, listen to how quietly you are running. If you hear your foot slapping or striking the floor, most likely you are just planting your foot. What we want to work on now is running quietly by striking, rolling and pushing off with your big toe. You should see your running shoe crease with each step. The key here is to run quietly versus planting or slapping down your foot.
4. As you add in the arms while you are running in place, look in the mirror and start working on a slight forward lean. Remember that the lean must come from your ankles, not your hips. Put it all together right in front of the mirror. As you are able to efficiently and effectively add in all pieces to the equation, you can start putting some very easy momentum behind it. This will allow you to carry perfect form into your running gait. And remember, if you can achieve the 90 or 180 cadence while running in place, you can achieve it when adding momentum behind it. Most athletes do too much, too soon, too fast. Slow it down and ingrain proper mechanics the correct way. Remember you can only achieve power and speed when proper running form is firmly in place as your foundation to work from. It’s a win-win effort!