It has been shown that increasing step rate during running will change the runner’s biomechanics. These changes in the biomechanics of the runner will improve loading of the joints of the lower extremities… But what is an appropriate step rate while running?
I came across an article that examined the biomechanics of running at a runner’s preferred step rate to increases of 5% and 10% of their preferred step rate. They showed significant improvements with most biomechanical parameters at a 5% increase in step rate with an even greater improvement at all parameters at a 10% increase in step rate. If an individual is having lower extremity pain from a repetitive use injury such as patellofemoral pain due to running, a recommendation can be made to increase the step rate of the runner by 10% or to about 190 steps/minute (which was the mean step rate of the subjects in the study plus 10%). In order to accomplish this pace you may count the amount of times the right leg contacts the ground in 30 seconds while running and multiplying it by 4. Then they may increase that amount by 10% and try to maintain that step rate while running for about 2 weeks to observe changes in lower extremity symptoms.
(Click here for access to the article)
Purpose: To characterize the biomechanical effects of step rate modification during running on the hip, knee and ankle joints, so as to evaluate a potential strategy to reduce lower extremity loading and risk for injury.
The study assessed 45 healthy adult runners who ran at least 15 miles per week and had been running for at least 3 months. The participants were unable to participate if they had an injury to the lower extremity, a part lower extremity surgery, or pain with running.
The participants were studied running at their preferred step rate, +5% and +10% of their preferred step rate.
The examiners found as step rate increased by 5% and 10% the step length and variability in center of mass vertical movement decreased significantly. They observed heel strike became closer to the center of mass which reduced the forward braking motion during the gait cycle. All other parameters showed significant improvements at the 10% increase in preferred step rate. They also found 20% and 34% less energy was absorbed at the knee with step rate increases of 5% and 10%; respectively, and there were significant reductions at the hip at the 10% increase. Finally, they found that there was a decrease in hip flexion and adduction during loading response with a reduction in peak hip abduction and internal rotation moments at +10%.
The limitations of the study according to the authors are that the study only assessed the short-term and not the long term, the step rate count was prone to measurement error, and that testing was done on the treadmill so they cannot make inferences to overground running.
Take this recommendation on running modification with a grain of salt. It may not work for everyone but the concept is to change the forces placed on the lower extremities and to help improve mechanics, reduce discomfort, and hopefully prevent future injury.