Saturday, 15 November 2008

Cadence training; audio-enhanced running

I became interested in cadence training last year, while I was writing a gear section for Runner's World SA on MP3 units for runners (November 2007 issue). I spent hours (days actually) surfing websites related to cadence training, learning about the benefits of running to properly paced music.

The following is an extract from my column "Plugged in":

"Music can have a profound effect on runners and their running performance. Motivating tunes offer a welcome distraction from fatigue, and provide a point of focus for dull indoor sessions. Chariots of Fire is played to inspire and stimulate runners at the start of Comrades; Brahms’ Lullaby would calm your nerves. But more important than melody is the beat, and how closely it matches your running cadence.

If you’ve spent any time in a gym, you’ve probably experienced a running 'sweet spot' – a period of other-worldly enlightenment – where your cadence (steps-perminute or SPM) is perfectly matched to the beat of the music floating across from a nearby spinning class. Buoyed by the rhythm, you feel as if you could run forever. This, dear runners, is what happens when the beat of the music matches your footfall rate. And when it doesn’t? You’ll feel out of sync, but possibly be unsure why, especially if your favourite tune is letting you down.

Get a beat boost

Two factors that directly affect your speed are stride length and rate. Stride length is related to leg muscle strength and can be improved through hill and resistance training. Stride rate refers to the number of times your feet touch the ground in one minute (see MATCH YOUR MUSIC, below). It takes focussed effort to increase your stride rate, and a few weeks to adapt aerobically to this higher turnover. Although some wrist units, like the Polar RS800, measure cadence, you can keep it simple by using music as a pacing tool; run in time to the beat and achieve higher cadence sessions within training runs."

What's my cadence?

"Running cadence is the measure of how many foot-strikes either the right or left foot makes in one minute. Steps-per-minute (SPM) is the count for every foot strike (left and right).

After a warm-up on a normal training run, count the number of times your right or left foot strikes the ground in one minute. Do this four times to find an average, as uphills will slow your cadence, while downhills will increase it. If your cadence is 80, then your SPM will be 160 (i.e. double). Consequently, music with beats-per-minute (BPM) closest to 160 would best match your stride rate. Tunes at 80bpm are also suitable; you'd just have two foot falls per beat.

Cadence of 80–85 is average, while 85–95 is good. Elite athletes run at a cadence of 95 or more."

While watching the major marathons it is fun to count the cadence of the top runners. It is usually in the low to mid 90's, increasing into the low 100's in the final kilometres. Of interest, I counted Bekele's 10 000m World Record track run at around 116 cadence on the last few laps!

How do you measure the beat of music?
Search online for "beat counter" and you'll find many options. Some websites have an online Java coded beat counter. Play your music and press any keyboard key in time with the beat. The beat is displayed on the screen. I prefer this little downloadable application (ARBPM). Download, extract from the zip file. Play your tune, open the application and then press any keyboard key on the beat. It only takes a few seconds to get the average beat.

There are also many software packages available that are able to scan music files and automatically measure the beat. I like the manual option.

Choosing an MP3 player
I prefer a unit with a small screen. Before I upload from my computer to the unit, I rename all my music files with the beat first and then the song name and [not always] artist - 88bpm Fat Bottomed Girls Queen.mp3. And because the number comes first, the songs are listed in beat order. You have to make this name change within the file properties, not just by renaming the file. Right-click on the song, select 'Properties'. Change the song 'Title' under the 'Summary' tab.

I start off at my [current] natural cadence (86bpm) and then increasing with each song. I'm fairly comfortable up to about 92bpm. I find it difficult to keep the cadence at 98bpm. But it is fun trying! Cadence training is great on a treadmill because you can keep the speed constant and increase cadence; an interesting exercise, especially as your cadence increases. Then I just increase the treadmill speed too.

You'll probably need to get a new pair of earphones; the ones that usually come with MP3 players will slide out of your ears once you start sweating. Look for sport-specific earphones; I like the ones with the hook that goes around your ear, like a hearing aid.

Choosing music
You'll be disappointed to hear that many of your favourite tunes are just not at the right beat. In fact, it is really hard to find music at the right beat. Those fast rock 'n roll tunes - too slow, most are around 140bpm. That goes for a lot of pop music (dance music included), which will be between 120 - 165 bpm).

I've scanned dozens and dozens of CDs borrowed from friends. You're lucky if you get one song off a CD! For the most part I like music I can sing along to (in my head; not aloud!) as opposed to doof-doof-doof tracks. has lists of beat-counted songs. Their lists have really grow since last year.

Remember you can run with each step on the beat or with the same foot landing on the beat.

For your reference, my beat-counted tracks thus far include the following (a rather odd assortment; but the beat works). My favourite high-speed running tracks are Help! (Beatles) and Feel (Robbie Williams).

Please scan through your music and let me know if you find any good ones in the upper 80's and low- to mid 90s.
  • 86 bpm Johnny Clegg - The Crossing
  • 87 bpm Joe Cocker - You can leave your hat on
  • 87 bpm Rock Around The Clock
  • 87 bpm Yellow - Coldplay
  • 88 bpm Live - Run To The Water
  • 88 bpm Queen - Fat Bottomed Girls
  • 90 bpm Elvis - Heartbreak Hotel
  • 90 bpm I love Rock 'n Roll - Britney
  • 90 bpm Live - I Alone
  • 92 bpm George Michael - Freedom
  • 92 bpm Everly Brothers - Wake Up Little Suzie
  • 95 bpm Beatles - Help!
  • 95 bpm Elvis - Blue Suede Shoes
  • 95 bpm Long Tall Sally - Little Richard
  • 95 bpm Sheryl Crow - If It Makes You Happy
  • 96 bpm George Michael - Faith
  • 96 bpm Michelle Branch - All You Wanted
  • 96 bpm Missy Higgins - 100 Round The Bends
  • 96 bpm Overprotected - Britney
  • 96 bpm This Ole House - Shakin' Stevens
  • 96 bpm Torn - Natalie Imbruglia
  • 97 bpm Hard Headed Woman - Elvis
  • 97 bpm Lynard Skynard - Sweet Home Alabama
  • 97 bpm You can't hurry love - Diana Ross
  • 98 bpm Feel - Robbie Williams
  • 98 bpm Snow - Informer
  • 101 bpm Mother's Little Helper - Rolling Stones
  • 101 bpm REM - It's The End Of The World

Happy running.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hi Lisa
I found it rather interesting that you've been delving into a topic that I've been speculating about for a while now. I've found that the music that I prefer to running to in the gym on the treadmill differs from what I like to run to on the road. The latter being slower paced. So, recently I've been running a lot more outdoors, but I also found that I was becoming slower... and I couldn't quite figure out why - until it hit me: Running along to my favourite tunes caused me to neglect high cadence workouts - It's very difficult to 'fight the beat' whilst becoming fatigued... outside, where the constant pace of the treadmill isn't forcing you to keep up with your predetermined pace. And as we all know, whatever you stimulate during training, will manifest itself on race day!!So now I'm forcing myself to listen to my 'fast track' gym selection while running outdoors - forcing my feet to keep up to the pace... and of course doing some sprint training (yuk!) I can feel the improvement already :) Happy running - Adele