By Ryan Bourdo, DPT

Fellow Oregonians, the time has come again (for the last time?!) for daylight savings to come to an end. And for those with the fortitude to brave the darkness during their runs, there are a few things that Rose City Physical Therapy would like to share to keep you as safe as possible. 

Last year, nearly 6,283 pedestrians were involved with traffic fatalities in the United States, a 3.4% increase from the year before. And while programs like Vision Zero can help reduce these fatalities, there is still plenty that runners can do to protect themselves during these sunless days and wet glaring weather we contend with in the Pacific Northwest.

Here are a few general principles to keep you safe:

Stay Defensive

A great approach to running in the dark is to stay on the defense: assume drivers cannot see you and always be aware of your surroundings. For example, running against traffic will allow you to know where cars are in relation to you. If you are crossing at a stop sign, go behind a stopped car, or wait for them to drive on. Finding long stretches of flat road will also allow you to see other pedestrians or motor vehicles ahead of time. And speaking of roads….

Find a good route

Stick to well lit streets that are easily accessible to pedestrians. But where can you find such a Shangri La you ask? Luckily in Portland, there is almost 70 miles of roadway specifically for pedestrians and cyclists with the Neighborhood Greenways initiative. And the City of Portland also provides a map of these streets! 

Stay Reflective/Get Lit

But running defensively in safer areas is only half of the solution! The other half is having the best gear to stay visible. Our good friends at Fleet Feet made this great video on different products they recommend. Our neighborhood Fleet Feet PDX in the Slabtown neighborhood of Northwest Portland also have some great items:

Another great option are these affordable reflective strips you can attach to your extremities.  

Run with friends!

What better than one set of eyes and ears? More! Get a friend and run together to keep both of you safe. Portland has plenty of running groups going on all year round to join with friends or meet new friends with similar interests 

Run with music?

Keep the volume low or wear only one earbud to allow you to tune in to sounds on the road easier.

These are some tips on how to stay safe out there on your runs. See and be seen. If you have any questions, please feel free to reach out to us. Have fun and stay safe out there!

Check out our Runner’s Safety Infographic Below!

About the Author

Ryan Bourdo completed his undergraduate education at the University of Oregon and received his Doctorate of Physical Therapy at Regis University in Denver, Colorado. He is an avid runner and enjoys treating runners of all skills and ability. He believes in treating the whole person and creating an environment that best enables the body to heal through exercise and manual therapy.

Original Article By

Table of Contents

Supplements for Runners From Training to Recovery

The goal of exercise is to break the body down. Yes, you read that correctly.

Looking back at our evolutionary biological roots, when we put our bodies through difficult situations, we wanted them to adapt–maybe to go for longer without food, maybe so we could detect a smell that told us certain berries were poisonous, maybe to jump higher to reach fruit in a tree.

Whatever the goal, we always had to fall short the first few attempts. Adaptation took failure, centuries of bodily breakdowns (and lucky DNA mutations) before our primordial ancestors developed the physical tools they needed to survive.

When we exercise, this happens on a much shorter timeline (hopefully). We put our bodies through strenuous activity with the goal of being stronger from it. In reasonable amounts, this cycle of stress and regeneration is normal and good and pushes our bodies to grow.

But in high amounts, the stress put on our bodies through can be detrimental.

That’s where supplements come in. You’ve no doubt heard the long list of the best supplements and what they can do for overall health: whey protein for recovery, magnesium for bone health, branched-chain amino acid for muscle-building. Each supplement targets a different need and together, they can have holistic benefits in all aspects of training and recovery. Most target either acute performance boosts or long-term health benefits.

We’ve gathered some of the best supplements for training, race day and recovery to incorporate into your everyday training regimen.

Scientific research is a good launchpad when choosing supplements. But it can be hard to find a definitive answer; sports studies are limited, and most are conducted on well-trained young men (so if that’s not you, it’s hard to conceptualize those results).

One of the most important considerations is the personal subjective experience when using a supplement: How do you feel? How are your training times? How are energy levels outside of training?

Of course, there are objective, numerical tests that aim to measure the effect of supplements. But many athletes rely on the subjective approach–those intangible feelings of motivation or energy–instead of tracking performance metrics to see if a supplement is working.

Science supporting supplement use is aplenty (and of varying quality), but remember some effects will be subjective.

A runner showcasing the different benefits of supplements on the body. Glucosamine aids in building cartilage, BCAAs help build muscle and Vitamin D supports bone health


Training Supplements

Training isn’t finished when those running shoes are untied. There are big gains in performance to be had by looking at training comprehensively, which should include considerations for diet and its impact on bone health and muscle mass.

In training, supplements help whole body health, working together to build a body on race day that’s ready for peak performance.

For Muscles: BCAAs

Muscle building isn’t usually a top priority for runners, but it’s essential for keeping those legs strong. Many runners enter a calorie deficit, which can trigger the loss of muscle mass–but BCAAs provide the body with building blocks to maintain muscle mass.

Branched-chain amino acids, commonly referred to as BCAAs, are a type of essential amino acid, meaning the body cannot produce them–they must be obtained through protein-rich food or supplementation. BCAAs include leucine, isoleucine, and valine. Other essential amino acids include histidine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine and tryptophan.

The body produces non-essential amino acids; they’re “non-essential” because it’s not essential to consume them through diet–the body makes them. They include alanine, asparagine, aspartate, cysteine, glutamate, glutamine, glycine, proline, serine and tyrosine.

The body breaks down protein into amino acids, which are absorbed and transported throughout the body like bricks on a conveyor belt, sent to create new proteins and build houses of muscle.

Other benefits of BCAA include protein synthesis (from a study on rats) and alleviated skeletal muscle damage (from a study on humans).

Many BCAA supplements combine the three types of BCAAs: leucine, isoleucine, and valine. Try the Do Vitamins BCAA Supplements, which are free of animal byproducts and fillers, or the Bulk Supplements BCAA powder.

For Bones and Joints: Glucosamine

and Vitamin D

For runners, joints can be one of the first things to go after countless hours of pounding feet on pavement. Creaky knees are a familiar but unpleasant sound.

Glucosamine is the supplement of choice here; it’s a natural compound found in cartilage, the all-important tissue cushioning joints. Made from chains of sugars and proteins bound together, glucosamine can be made synthetically, but can also be harvested from the shells of shellfish.

Possessing a natural anti-inflammatory property, glucosamine is used to treat arthritis and osteoarthritis. The body needs glucosamine to help synthesize proteins and fats that form important tissues (chief among them cartilage) and helps form fluids that provide joints with lubrication. Glucosamine is like the body’s WD-40.

There are several kinds of glucosamine, but most supplements feature glucosamine sulfate. Over a three-year period, one study found that long-term treatment with glucosamine sulfate slowed the progression of knee osteoarthritis (osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis). Glucosamine sulfate also had a greater influence in reducing joint pain during function and daily activities, one study found.

We suggest the Schiff glucosamine tablets, which contain MSM–a source of sulfur important in the formation of collagen in joints, vital for its support of structural cartilage; the Bluebonnet vegetarian glucosamine also contains MSM.

In conjunction with glucosamine, Vitamin D is a powerful supplement to improve bone health.

Vitamin D and calcium have a complementary relationship: Vitamin D helps our bodies effectively absorb calcium and phosphorus, strengthening our bones and muscles. The easiest way to get Vitamin D is through sunlight, spurring our skin to synthesize the hormone (but remember to avoid too much sun); it can also be garnered via some foods like salmon, milk, cheese and egg yolks.

Vitamin D is important because runners’ bones take a beating, but interestingly for most, running actually builds bone health (one study found that impact and resistance training in female breast cancer survivors combatted bone loss).

In healthy people, bones respond to stress by reforming to better handle that stress, in what’s called Wolfe’s Law. For runners, that means bones in the spine and legs, which are exposed to constant stress, should generally be stronger than in non-runners.

Kado-3, a super-charged omega-3 by HVMN, maximizes the effects of Vitamin D with Vitamin K, as they work together to protect bone health.

An image of a shot of espresso, illustrating caffeine provides a performance boost. Another image of a sweet potato, illustrating carbohydrates are the body's most readily-available fuel.


Race Day Supplements

Supplements consumed on race day should work acutely, giving runners quick performance boosts to hopefully shave seconds off their times.

For Energy: Caffeine and Carbohydrates

Caffeine is the classic runner’s supplement, providing quick energy in an easily consumable fashion. We have been using it since the Stone Age, chewing the seeds or bark or leaves of certain plants to affect fatigue and awareness.

Caffeine works like this: as countless neurons fire throughout the day, a neurochemical called adenosine builds up. The nervous system uses receptors to monitor the body’s adenosine levels, and as the day progresses, more adenosine passes through those receptors (making us tired). Caffeine is the same size and shape of adenosine; it attaches to the A1 receptor and when docked, adenosine molecules can’t enter.

Studies have shown that caffeine intake improves exercise performance while also decreasing the perception of pain. However, there’s a genetic split in response to caffeine: for some, it could actually make performance worse. Best try it before race day to ensure it’s right for you.

Along with caffeine, carbohydrates and carb-loading have been other race day staples for runners. Things like pasta, bagels, rice and other high-carb foods are often used as fuel before starting a race. During races, the most common are gels and energy drinks.

Carbs eaten pre-race are stored as glycogen in the muscles and liver, while carbs eaten during the race will be directly burned.

Glycogen is the body’s most readily-available fuel, powering racers through early miles. But when those carbs run out? Body–meet wall.

Ketone esters like HVMN Ketone can also provide an alternate fuel source for the body; your muscles will first burn ketones, saving glycogen stores for later in the race (more on this below).

But you can also produce ketones while on a ketogenic diet. Recently there has been more interest in training with a ketogenic low-carb diet to achieve a body adapted to use fat and ketones as a fuel. Runners following this diet showed a huge boost in fat burning capacity, and there were positive effects of a ketogenic diet on endurance in animal experiments. But there isn’t any conclusive evidence of increased performance in humans (maybe because other changes to metabolism cancel out the increase in fat burning capacity that occurs on the keto diet).

For Buffering: Sodium Bicarbonate and Nitrate

Turns out baking soda isn’t just for baking–the supplement, called sodium bicarbonate, is used to provide athletes with a boost during sessions of intense exercise. Essentially, it protects the body against acidity.

We’ve discussed lactate previously; during periods of intense anaerobic exercise, lactate accumulates as a result of rapidly burning carbohydrate when the demand for energy is high, and oxygen availability is low. It’s often associated with muscle fatigue but it’s actually the acidic hydrogen proton attached to lactate that’s to blame. When our blood becomes acidic during intense exercise, the brain triggers nausea in the hope of decreasing activity level and thus allowing the body to recycle lactate and regulate blood pH.

Sodium bicarbonate is able to bind the protons that cause acidity, thus reducing overall change in blood pH during exercise. It can potentially provide resistance against fatigue caused by acid accumulation from intense exercise, especially for intense exercise lasting up to seven minutes.

Sodium bicarbonate should be taken about 60 – 90 minutes before exercise, at about 200mg – 300mg. While it mostly comes in powder form, there’s also a gel (Topical Edge) you can use that helps to reduce the risk of stomach upsets caused by the salty sodium bicarb drink.

An image of baking soda illustrating sodium bicarbonate, which can reduce acidity in blood that accumulates during exercise. Also picture is beetroot for nitrates, which helps deliver oxygen to the muscles.

Also on race day, in the early morning darkness of warm-up hours, you might see fellow runners downing shots of beetroot juice. They’re trying to get nitrates–which were once villainized by association with processed meat in the 1960s.

Nitrates trigger vasodilation (the dilation of blood vessels), which allows more oxygen to be delivered to the muscles. It’s a molecule produced by the body in small quantities, but is mostly obtained by eating vegetables; chief among them is beetroot juice, but spinach, arugula, turnips and even dark chocolate (as this study in cyclists found) can also be good sources of nitrate.

The benefits of nitrate peak at about two or three hours post-ingestion, so a morning smoothie (with spinach, mint, arugula, celery and beetroot juice) on race day might be the best way to get the necessary nitrates before the race kicks off.

Research suggests that beetroot juice can also help reduce blood pressure, and taking about 5-8 mM of inorganic nitrate may positively influence physiological response to exercise.

Recovery Supplements

Ever felt completely gassed hours after an intense workout? Maybe you aren’t approaching muscle recovery correctly.

The goal of any type of recovery is to put your body in the best possible position to accomplish more intense workouts in the following days. Exercise is cyclical; tending to those worn-down muscles can be the first step to fueling your next run.

For Replenishment: Protein–Whey and Casein and Soy

Protein is just for weightlifters, right? Absolutely not. Both runners and weightlifters seek to slow the catabolic process of muscle breakdown and kickstart the anabolic process of building muscle.

Post-exercise, muscle enzymes are like construction workers on standby–ready to build but needing the right tools to do it.

So in the two or three hours after a workout, protein can repair muscle damage, reduce the response from cortisol and speed glycogen replacement. High protein availability accelerates resolution of muscle inflammation and promotes muscle-building after training. But there are several different types of protein supplements (which usually come in the form of protein powders) to choose from. Whole foods chock-full of protein include: chicken, eggs, milk, yogurt, and beans.

“After challenging sessions when I know I’ve really worked my muscles, I make sure to have protein right away. Giving your muscles what they need to rebuild is key to locking in performance gains. For me and many others, protein makes me feel less sore in the days following a hard session, so I can get back out there and do it again.”Michael Brandt, HVMN co-founder and avid triathlete

Whey protein–which you may recognize from milk and cheese–is a great source of BCAAs, which can aid in muscle protein resynthesis (specifically, the BCAA leucine). What’s more, whey is also absorbed the fastest out of this list of proteins. It’s largely considered the most effective type of protein for muscle protein synthesis. There have also been studies showcasing the weight loss benefits of protein.

We recommend Muscle Feast Grass Fed Whey Protein for its absence of additives and artificial ingredients. Also try Myprotein Impact Whey Isolate, which contains over 90% protein and 1% fat. For athletes or highly-active people who want to build lean muscle mass while attempting to lose body fat, about 1g of protein per pound of body weight per day is a good target. Less athletic / active people should aim for 0.45 – 0.69g per pound of body weight daily.

For longer-term recovery, try casein protein–it composes about 80% of the protein from milk, and takes hours to absorb. You can leverage both casein and whey protein but they should be used differently; whey for immediate recovery, casein for long-term muscle building.

One interesting use of casein protein is taking it before bed. Since muscles enter a catabolic state while you sleep (read: since you’re fasting, your muscles are eating themselves), casein can help lessen and delay this process because it takes longer to digest.

Casein protein releases a steady stream of amino acids that slow the digestive process; one study showcased consuming it before bed led to a 34% reduction in protein breakdown.

The other type of protein isn’t milk-based; it’s soy protein, which is made from soybeans. A good source of amino acids, it’s the choice for many vegetarian or vegan athletes. There’s also protein made from peas, brown rice, and hemp for those allergic to soy.

Since the science of soy protein points to be less effective than milk-based proteins, we recommend staying away from this form of plant-based protein.

An image of a female runner on a bench. Her knee is highlighted, showing omega-3 and polyphenols can reduce inflammation. Her shoulder is highlighted to showcase protein can help repair muscle damage.


For Soreness: Fish Oil and polyphenols

When people talk about taking fish oil, they’re seeking omega-3 fatty acids, hoping to prevent inflammation; they’re a key nutrient all runners should have in their diets. Inflammation can come in many forms, from muscle soreness, to joint pain, to heart disease to autoimmune diseases. While acute inflammation can be good for our bodies to encourage health, chronic inflammation can detrimental.

The two main fatty acids in omega-3 fish oils are docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). These can block inflammation pathways in the cell.

Studies suggest omega-3s can help alleviate inflammation. Research has also shown that fish oil supplementation helped subjects decrease airway inflammation (during exercise, airways can narrow and thus restrict airflow) and improve post-exercise lung function by 64%.

The US Department of Health suggests about 250mg of fish oil daily, but in one study, the American Heart Association gave patients four grams daily and saw benefits in heart health.

Kado-3, by HVMN, is a supercharged krill and fish oil stack designed to assist daily brain and body metabolism. Ingredients in Kado-3 work together; like astaxanthin oil (a powerful antioxidant) to fight against the buildup of free radicals, and Vitamins K and D to protect bone health. Kado-3 compounds the beneficial effects of Vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids on the brain and body.

Hard training sessions can lead to sickness; bolstering the body’s immune system with polyphenol and antioxidants is important to keeping up training over the long-haul.

Polyphenols are another supplement for reducing inflammation, a category of chemicals naturally found in plants. While the idea of polyphenol benefits isn’t new, research has only begun to be conducted on the subject. Many of the health benefits associated with polyphenols are connected to these substances being antioxidants, which are known to combat cell damage.

A great source of polyphenol is tart cherries. Animal tests suggest they’ve been effective in reducing inflammatory and oxidative stress signaling in rat cells. For athletes, the data is less conclusive; still, polyphenol supplementation can increase the capacity to quench free radicals. But it’s an exciting area of research, especially in regards to muscle micro-damage.

Look to things like cherries, blueberries, or green tea to help reduce the possibility of exercise-induced illness.

HVMN Ketone: Superfuel for Training, Race Day and Recovery

Look at the list of supplements above; few traverse all situations for runners, from training day to race day to recovery day.

HVMN Ketone, the world’s first ketone ester, is being used by elite performers in sport and military. It’s so unique partially because its applications for endurance sport are so broad.

For Training and Race Day

Ketones are a fundamentally different fuel source from carbohydrates and fats that cells typically use for energy; in fact, your body will preferentially burn ketones over carbs.

Professional cyclist, Vittoria Bussi will be attempting to break “The Hour” record using HVMN Ketone as fuel.

“The first time I tried HVMN Ketone in training, a 50-minute time trial felt like 30 minutes. I was so focused and had much more energy in my legs. The combination of mental lucidity and extra physical energy was strong and effective.”Vittoria Bussi

When taken before or during exercise, D-BHB (the ketone body in HVMN Ketone) is 28% more efficient than carbohydrates alone, helping your body do more work with the same amount of oxygen. In one study, cyclists went ~2% further in a 30-minute time trial.

For Recovery

Athletes of all levels can benefit from making improvements to their recovery protocol. Those using HVMN Ketone have seen a decrease in the breakdown of intramuscular glycogen and protein during exercise when compared to carbs alone.

It also expedited the resynthesis of glycogen by 60% and boosted the signals for protein resynthesis by 2x when added to normal carb / protein post-workout fuel. D-BHB from HVMN Ketone acts as an anti-inflammatory recovery tool, helping reduce exercise-induced oxidative stress from the buildup of free radicals that can cause damage to the cells.

A chart showcasing the benefits of HVMN Ketone for both training and race day, and for recovery.


Supplements for Runners: A Holistic Approach

Everyone from ultramarathon endurance athletes, to speed specialists, to casual after-work 5k runners can benefit from introducing the right supplements into their diet.

While some supplements are still in the early stages of research, things like amino-acids, protein and caffeine have been decades-long staples for runners–but it’s always especially important to supplement nutrients the body needs but can’t produce naturally (looking at you, omega-3).

When there is more pressure on your training, mile times start going down, training volume goes up and recovery time gets shorter. Maybe then it’s time to begin introducing more advanced and targeted supplements and testing with newer, elite technology like HVMN Ketone.

We suggest researching and then testing out what works for you–everyone is different. Also don’t forget to pay attention to the macronutrient composition of your diet, sleep quality and other health barometers when introducing supplements. Start with some of the basics like BCAAs, protein, Vitamin D and fish oils, gauging how you feel. Remember, continued use of these supplements over a period of weeks often yields the best results; don’t expect to notice the difference from one Vitamin D pill.

Don’t Get Left in the Dust

We’re developing training guides for athletes, focusing on supplements, dieting, and training to help you get to the next level. Be the first to know when they’re published.

Karl Kolbeck is a physical therapist and along with his wife Sasha they own Rose City Physical Therapy located in NW Portland. He’s been practicing for 25 years with specialties in treating the shoulder as well as runners. Karl is dual board certified in both orthopedic and sports clinical specialties, is certified in manual and manipulative therapy and is a fellow of the American Academy of Orthopedic Manual Physical Therapists. He teaches rehab based continuing medical education courses to physicians, physical therapists and athletic trainers across the nation. He and his staff are involved with multiple running groups in the Portland metro area, offering educational sessions and athlete screenings. Karl also provides care for the Bowerman Track Club Nike professional running team based in Portland.

Runner Safety Month - Be Safe Be Seen

November is National Runners Safety Month. The days in the Pacific NW are getting short; the nights long – and wet. This calls for poor visibility on the roadways. And with the necessity of work that occupies most people’s day, many of us run early in the morning before work, or in the evening after work – in the dark.

Our friends at Brooks Running have put together a nice infographic and BROOKS mnemonic to help you out. It’s not so much runner’s not seeing that creates accident threat; more so, it’s runners who are not seen by motorists.

Be Seen Be Heard

Be Safe

  • Run during the daytime if possible
  • Run with a partner
  • Tell someone your planned route and time of return…and stick to it
  • Run against traffic
  • Run in a lit and well-populated pedestrian area, which Portland has numerous options:
  • Run with mace pepper spray…it is legal in Oregon
  • Run without music…or if music is a must, wear only one ear bud to keep it easier to hear your surroundings
  • Wear a Road ID or carry another form of ID
  • Run with your cell phone
    • Be sure to have C.E. (In Case of Emergency) contacts set in your phone and turn on the Medical ID option for emergency contact access by fire and police
    • We recommend a slim line waist belt phone carrier (uFashionC3, fitTek) or arm band (Senbor) strap. Do not carry it in your hand as this offsets normal efficient arm carriage during the running cycle as well as creates a habit to keep looking at your phone and increases the risk of tripping and distraction.
    • Have your phones GPS turned on so you can be tracked
    • If you have an advanced technology sport watch, many have an option to sync GPS tracking from the phone to a website and app to track your metrics. Give a trusted source access to this website or app in case it’s necessary to track your whereabouts.
  • Don’t run the same route time after time
  • Wear reflective gear and lights (see Be Seen below)

Be Seen

Products we recommend must be easy to don, low profile, fit snugly without being too tight, and need to be lightweight. Thanks to technological advances, there are numerous products that fit this bill.

Now you don’t need to go out and purchase all these items and run weighted down by all the gadgets as well as look like a lit up Christmas tree. But choose a few. Think top (head), middle (torso and arms) and bottom (legs) of the body. The top and middle afford options for most visible gear; but there is something to be said about reflective ankle bands not being missed when car lights reflect off them as a runner is grinding through their strides.

Our favorites include:

Gear up and go run. Be Safe! Be Seen!

Run Cadence: Is 180 A Magic Number?

The What and Why of Cadence


What Is Cadence?

  • the beat, rate, or measure of any rhythmic movement
  • the flow or rhythm of events, especially the pattern in which something is experienced
  • (in gait)…the number of steps per minute

As a runner, you’ve likely been asked, “What’s your cadence?” or “What’s your stride rate?” or “How many steps per minute do you take?”

Does it matter? Yes. And no.

Stride rate is one variable in a complex – or fundamental components of the running gait cycle that we ostensibly make complex – equation for efficient and injury reduction running. Injury reduction? Not prevention? At Rose City Physical Therapy we don’t endorse the promotion of “injury prevention” running programs. Ask a coach, a performance specialist or a physical therapist to guarantee you that their program will prevent you from getting injured and I wager not one will make such a guarantee. Injury is common in runners and the rates are high. If you run, at some point you have likely experienced or will eventually contend with an injury. A systematic review by van Gent and others reports that average running injury rates vary between 19.4% and 92.4% per year with an approximate 50% average (British Journal of Sports Medicine. 2007). Vidabek and others in another more recent systematic review and meta-analysis reported an incidence of 2.5 injuries per 1000 hours of running in accomplished long-distance track athletes to a maximum of 33.0 injuries per 1000 hours in a study of novice runners (Sports Medicine. 2015). The point is, runners get injured.

Popularized by running coach Jack Daniels while observing runners at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic summer games, it was reported that all runners, regardless of sex or height, took between ”180 steps or more per minute”. From his statement, the ‘magical 180’ was inferred and people have taken that to mean all elite runners run at 180 steps per minute (spm). This in fact is not what Daniel’s stated. He actually reported some of the runner’s cadence was as high as 200 spm.

In lieu of overcomplicating cadence, I’ll simplify what we know and why cadence has relevance to the runner. Speed = Stride length x Stride rate.

In lieu of overcomplicating cadence, I’ll simplify what we know and why cadence has relevance to the runner. Speed = Stride length x Stride rate. Therefore, to run faster you can either increase your stride length or your stride rate. Height clearly influences this equation also; however, this is a constant variable so I’ll forego that. Most recreational, non-elite or improperly coached runners increase their speed by increasing their stride length on the front side – meaning they over stride. And runners who over stride take fewer steps per minute than those who do not over stride and their foot is in contact with the ground for a longer duration as well. In other words, they have a lower stride rate – and research suggests a stride rate of 162 spm or less has a direct correlation to incidence of injury.

Over striding is like slamming on the brakes when driving.

Over striding is like slamming on the brakes when driving. The foot contacts the ground well in front of 1) the body’s center of mass and 2) a plumb line dropped down from the knee to the ground (i.e. in front of the knee) at point of initial foot contact. This initial contact can occur at the heel, the rear-foot, the mid-foot or the forefoot. With foot contact occurring well out in front of your center of mass, in addition to the initial braking that occurs and slows you down, you also have to get your body over that contact point and prepare for push off. This creates excessive ground reaction (impact) force, vertical displacement of your body (think bouncy running) and places undue stress on your bones and joints. It just so happens the most common contact pattern in over striders is heel striking. Larsen and others reported an incidence of heel striking at the 10km mark in a half-marathon/marathon race of 88.9% with a greater prevalence in the recreational distance runners versus the seasoned runners (Journal of Sports Science. 2011). Another study be Kasmer and others observed a 93.67% prevalence of heel striking in 1991 runners observed during a marathon (International Journal Sports Physiological Performance 2013).

Studies suggest the problem is not what part of your foot touches the ground first, but how close the initial contact is – or is not – underneath your hips, i.e. your center of mass.

We’ve been led to believe that heel striking is bad. But is it? Studies suggest the problem is not what part of your foot touches the ground first, but how close the initial contact is – or is not – underneath your hips, i.e. your center of mass – illustrated in Figures 1 and 2 below.

Figure 1: Correct Initial Contact with Rear-foot Strike

Figure 1: Correct Initial Contact with Rear-foot Strike

Figure 2: Correct Initial Contact with Mid-foot Strike

Figure 2: Correct Initial Contact with Mid-foot Strike

Figure 3: Heel Striker Over-striding

Figure 3: Heel Striker Over-striding

Figure 4: Rear-foot Striker Over-striding

Figure 4: Rear-foot Striker Over-striding

Figure 5: Fore-foot Striker Over-striding

Figure 5: Fore-foot Striker Over-striding

Figures 1 and 2 illustrate appropriate initial contact close to under the runner’s hip (center of mass) as illustrated by the minimal open space between the initial foot contact and the vertical green line dropped down from the hip; Figure 1 via rear-foot contact and Figure 2 via mid-foot contact. Notice each runner’s initial foot contact is also behind the flexed (bent) knee as exemplified by the tibia (lower leg bone) being appropriately declined backward of vertical – illustrated by the green line overlaying the tibia from the knee to the ankle.

No research has reported that the heel striker is at more risk of injury than the non-heel striker as long as the initial contact occurs in a non-over stride position. It just so happens that with over striding no matter what part of your foot contacts the ground first it occurs with a knee that is straight and locked out (Figure 3), or near straight (Figures 4 and 5) – illustrated by the red line overlaying the tibia from the knee to the ankle. Notice this line is declined forward of a vertical tibia orientation. Also notice the initial foot contact occurs well forward of the runner’s center of mass – illustrated by the large open space between initial foot contact and the vertical red line dropped down from the hip.

The main purpose of manipulating cadence is to prevent over striding. As previously stated, most recreational runners over stride. And a cadence of 162 spm or lower is common in those who over stride. If you don’t over stride, manipulating cadence is likely unnecessary.

Recreational and ‘weekend warrior’ runners commonly run between 150 and 170 steps per minute, while seasoned runners commonly run around 180spm or higher. ‘Commonly’ is the key word here, as there exists a broad range amongst runners. Recently, while watching the 2017 IAAF World Track and Field Championships occurring in London, I decide to count the cadence of several athletes in various events. Here’s what I found:

AthleteEventCadence (via visual count) Approximate, Point in event
Mo FarahMen’s 10,000 meter…1st place finish168 spm3200 meter mark
  “     “     “     “            “              “              “168 spm9000 meter mark
  “    “     “     “            “              “              “192 spmhome stretch
Joshua CheptegeiMen’s 10,000 meter…2nd place finish180 spm3400 meter mark
  “     “    “     “            “              “              “192 spm9800 meter mark
Abadi HadisMen’s 10,000 meter…7th place finish180 spm5700 meter mark
Almaz Ayana Women’s 10,000 meter…1st place finish180 spm4800 meter mark
  “    “     “     “            “              “              “192 spm5200 meter mark
  “    “     “     “            “              “              “184 spm7000 meter mark
  “    “     “     “            “              “              “198 spmhome stretch
  “    “     “Women’s 5,000 meter finals…2nd place finish180 spm3300 meter mark
Tirunesh DibabaWomen’s 10,000 meter…2nd place finish168 spm6800 meter mark
  “     “     “     “            “              “              “186 spm8200 meter mark
  “     “     “     “            “              “              “228 spmhome stretch
Agnes Jebet TiropWomen’s 10,000 meter…3rd place finish192 spm9800 meter mark
  “     “     “     “            “              “              “204 spmhome stretch
Hyvin JepkemoiWomen’s Steeple…1st place finish in heat180 spm1300 meter mark
Sophia AssefaWomen’s Steeple…2nd finish in heat176 spm1500 meter mark
Hellen OberiWomen’s 5,000 meter finals…1st place finish192 spm2600 meter mark
Susan KrumminsWomen’s 5,000 meter finals…8th place finish204 spm4500 meter mark
Caster SemenyaWomen’s 800 meter final…1st place finish180 spm300 meter mark
Ajee WilsonWomen’s 800 meter final…3rd place finish192 spmhome stretch
Timothy CheruiyotMen’s 1500 meter final…2nd place finish192 spm1000 meter mark
Rose ChelimoWomen’s Marathon…1st place finish200 spmhome stretch
Amy CraggWomen’s Marathon…3rd place finish204 spm2:08 mark
  “     “     “     “            “              “              “204 spm2:17 mark
  “     “     “     “            “              “              “200 spmhome stretch
Flomena DanielWomen’s Marathon…4th place finish188 spm2:17 mark

The above supports what’s been known for some time – that variability amongst different runners and at different paces for a given runner occurs. Clearly most are at or above the 180 spm rate. However, there are a few elites running at less than 180 spm.

From his lab at the University of Wisconsin – Madison, Heidersheit and others, in his publication titled “Effects of step rate manipulation on joint mechanics during running”, investigated if reduce impact forces in runners would occur by increasing stride rate. Load changes were monitored following ±5% to ±10% modifications to stride rate, they concluded that it appears that increasing your stride frequency by five or ten percent is a good way to decrease impact loading on your joints and possibly prevent injury. (Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise. 2011)

They found when runners increased their stride rate, the energy absorbed by the hip and knee joints decreased significantly and impact forces also decreased at higher stride frequencies.

They found when runners increased their stride rate, the energy absorbed by the hip and knee joints decreased significantly and impact forces also decreased at higher stride frequencies. Also reported with increased stride rate was a faster turnover (less ground contact time) and increased backside mechanics, and a significant reduction of hip adductor (inner thigh muscles) activity – which if over active can in part contribute to a cross-over gait pattern. Equally, they also found that energy absorbed and impact transient spikes both increased when subjects were asked to decrease their stride rate.

Lastly, Schubert and others conducted a systematic review which included ten studies and concluded an increased stride rate appears to reduce the magnitude of several key biomechanical factors associated with running injuries (Sports Health 2014).

In summary, there is no magical cadence nor is increasing stride rate a panacea, and numerous variables exist that influences ones cadence – some which can be manipulated and some which cannot. Cadence manipulation is not always necessary and the most common intent as to why increase a runner’s cadence is to prevent over striding; which is important as it promotes initial foot contact closer to under your center of mass. And research suggests eliminating over striding may reduce injury.