Despite what you may think, there’s a lot of technique involved in running economically.
Just because you can run, doesn’t mean that you’re running efficiently…
I know for a fact that a lot of you guys are making this same mistake I have… because your running cadence, or steps per minute tells all!
Thai boxers are primarily fighters, so running economy is less important in the short-term.
But in the long-term, poor economy combined with many accumulated miles means unnecessary wear and tear – and needless injury.
Overuse injuries are an inevitable consequence. I know from personal experience!
I’ve always been a natural runner – fast, and able to go on and on. No one had every coached me on “how to run”.
I didn’t think I needed it anyway.
But eventually, once over the age of 40 years old, I started getting random calf strains that would put me out of commission for weeks at a time.
The culprit, my running form.
I naturally “over-stride”. Which not only leads to reduced running economy (I could have run even faster and for even longer), but also overuse injury that demanded I look at the cause of the issue.
Over-striding means you naturally add an unnecessary breaking action, that not only wastes energy, but also shock loads your lower body to a much greater degree. Over time, this will cause you injury.
And this over-striding is far more common than you may realise, and the slower you’re running, the more likely you are to be doing it.
Those longer, steady runs can literally be pounding your lower body more than the high-intensity sprints!
Optimum running economy (and reduced impact) occurs at a running cadence of 170-180bpm typically, regardless of the speed you are running at.
Elite runners are running at this kind of cadence.
And the running apps these days capture this info for you (Strava, MapMyRun etc), so make good use of them to not only record the amount of “work” you’ve done, but also inform your running technique.
To clean up your running technique and avoid “Self-Destruct”, simply make sure you run at a cadence of between 170-180 steps per minute.
Although this is a simple fix, like many things, it’s not easy. So let me give you some tips…
You’re battling a habit, one that’s deeply anchored through thousands of repetitions – a rhythm that you naturally dance along at.
It’s going to take some conscious effort to re-write this learned motor-pattern engram.
1) First of all, download a running app that tracks your running cadence (steps per minute).
Then you can monitor a) what your existing cadence naturally is, and b) what you managed to change it to with deliberate effort.
There are many free apps that will measure cadence these days, but one I’m familiar with myself is MapMyRun (shown in the first part of the video above).
2) Next, you need a way to help remind you to change your natural tempo… Download a metronome app to “beep” you into proper rhythm.
Again, there are many free options. The one I’ve shown in the second part of the video is MetroTimer on the iPhone.
When I fixed my running cadence, I went out running with the metronome beeping at 170bpm, and I tried matching my foot strikes on the floor to the beeps… just like I was dancing!
It felt weird at first. My natural slow jogging cadence was more like 150bpm, and 170bpm felt like I was running like I’d wet myself!
But after a few more runs, I got it.
And it did feel far more efficient than what I’d been doing.
It allowed me to employ the same running mechanics I used at high speed…
Falling forward, led by the weight of my head, allowing my feet to just “pedal” underneath me to keep up.
Much like if you’re running downhill, or across a slippery ice patch!
Try to feel that you’re stepping “under your centre of gravity” rather than reaching out too far in front with your lead foot.
You’ll be slightly leaning forwards into your run and “falling down hill”, even if you’re on a flat or going uphill!
As you lean forward a little to adjust balance, keep your spine long — think deadlift shape, rather than curled fighting stance…
You’ll become more aware of your glutes, and feel their positive contribution too!
The trick is to find the correct, most efficient degree of forward lean according to the surface incline that you’re on and the speed that you are travelling at.
For me, further experimentation showed when I ran fast, I naturally adopted a 170-180 spm cadence.
It was only when steadily jogging that my cadence dropped to 150 spm – and the reason my calves only strained when I ran slowly, rather than when I ran fast!
Problem solved! I hope this helps you too, like it has for others I’ve shared this with…
“After changing my cadence even on slow runs to 180, not only my knees felt better after long runs, but interestingly my speed at the same heart rate went up. So it’s definitely more efficient.” – Hans B.
“Just had a calf strain myself where it would be aggravated on my LSR, but fine on a fast 5k, and there was about a 10 difference in my cadence. The tough thing is adjusting cadence when trying to run slower.” – Richard S.
The impact of this seeming small change shouldn’t be underestimated, and neither should you assume that just because you haven’t had any problems (yet), that your running cadence is already good.
Do check it out… The sooner you correct the habit the better.
“Wow yes been very mindful need to hone my roadwork game and just checked -running at 150.” – Ricky B.
And finally, to clear up any potential confusion regarding heart rate bpm… They’re two different things.
Suggested target heart rate bpm (beats per minute) for cardio training sessions – for example, while running using the Cardiac Output training method from the program at 120-150 bpm – is entirely different to foot strike cadence spm (steps per minute) discussed in this post.
You should be able to hit 170-180 steps per minute on the floor, regardless of your heart rate beats per minute.
- Heart Rate Training Myths For Fighters
- Breaking Limits In Muay Thai
- Optimal Fight Camp Blueprint
- The Muay Thai S&C Accelerator – the S&C program I use to train professional athletes and fighters. If you want it all laid out for you (by me personally) as efficiently and effectively as possible, so you can spend less time studying and more time training – this is the program for you
- Questions and comments below – please join in…
Founder of Heatrick Strength and Conditioning
Don Heatrick is a family man from the UK, former mechanical design engineer, European Muay Thai silver medallist, former pro Thai boxer (ranked 4th in UK while aged 40-years), a Muay Thai coach, podcast host, and the go-to expert on Muay Thai performance training with over 25 years of coaching experience.
Don helps ambitious fighters and coaches take their game to the next level by bridging the gap between Strength & Conditioning, Performance Science, and Muay Thai.
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The Pose Method is a really good reference/resource for running form. Quick version: forefoot strike, concentrate on lifting trailing limb instead of placement of lead limb, and let gravity pull on forward leaning (but erect) posture be what propels you forward, like what you wrote about gravity’s pull on your head. Get your COM out of your base of support and now gravity is translated into a horizontal force, essentially. If you focus on lifting the trailing limb instead of placement of the lead limb you reduce the braking force and your cadence pick up, like your writing above.
Thanks Sam, useful input mate.