Optimal Running Rhythm

Rhythm is necessary in life. There is rhythm in the falling of a leaf, rhythm in the rising and setting of the sun, rhythm in the changing of season, rhythm in lunar cycles and even within the system within our body there is a ruling rhythm.



Rhythm Is Life

There is a rhythm in our heart beat, rhythm in our breathing and even the taping of our toes when we hear nice music creates rhythm. In life we employ rhythm for different purpose and specific reasons. Sometimes we use it to calm us, sometimes to cope with abrupt movements. Basically we are in a world of rhythm, thus rhythm becomes an integral part of our life.

Our sport of triathlon is no different.

Triathlon also depends on rhythm; there is rhythm in each season which is comprised of base, build, peak, and recovery periods. Each phase is done in preparation for the next phase. Just as when you are in the recovery period you know that there is the race season ahead and you are setting your mind and looking forward to it.

And when you are in the peak season, you know that there is the off-season to give your body time to heal and rejuvenate. These periods are necessary to heal, prepare and condition our body for the race ahead and maximize our potentials.

Breaking It Down

Likewise, in every season each phase is also split up into periods of 3 to 4 week blocks. Within this period the degree or intensity of the training is being build up, and then gradually wanes in the last week of the training.

This is the time when our body is given enough rest from extensive training, and also a time to ponder on the effects and benefits of the hard training. This period of build up and rest helps us to maintain our vigor and helps our body adjust and adapt to the training and avoid fatigue.

Swimming With Rhythm

The three disciplines of triathlon are grounded in rhythm. Take for example in swimming, every movement is synchronized and follows a certain rhythm. The clockwork movement of a swimmers arm is synchronized with his breathing patterns.

The reason for this is that when you breathe in an irregular pattern, take for example you vary the speed of your breathing while swimming, your breathing will be out of rhythm, this then reduces the supply of oxygen and nutrients in the in the blood stream and in the major muscle groups and thus affects your level of energy and performance. To correct such an irregularity in swimming strokes, trainers usually introduce drills that are primarily designed to even out the swimming strokes.

Cycling Cycles

Whereas in cycling, coaches put more emphasis on smoothness, even, and rhythmic pedaling by teaching their athletes techniques in handling their bike gears. They usually require a cadence of 85 to 95 pedal strokes per minute (this refers to the number of pedal revolutions one make within one minute). Usually bikers maintain this standard, though sometimes they may employ a higher cadence or a lower one depending on the target cycling skill that they want to develop or enhance.

But most of the time, especially in their weekly mileage, they stick to the 85-95 range. Maintaining this range while riding up hill greatly benefits our muscles, because the body clears more efficiently lactic acids from our leg muscles, and thus helps those muscles perform well.

Running Rhythm

Likewise, rhythm and tempo plays a major role in running, this helps you to get of that laden feeling after you come off the bike.

Rhythm is the prime foundation for these three divisions in triathlon because it equates efficiency. Maintaining a good rhythm during the race helps you maintain vigor and become more efficient in your performance and approach the finish line with confidence and vitality with less injury.

Since running comes last in the triathlon, and most of the time it is our leg muscles that bears almost all the pressure within the race, lets probe deeper into the benefits of running with rhythm and how to achieve such results.


By nature our body is symmetrical and in every move our body looks for ways to move in rhythm and maintain that balance and symmetry. Just like an old metronome with an uneven beat, you have to slightly tilt the instrument just to even out the beat.

So similarly with the human body, it is very exhausting to run for a long period of time with an uneven stride and/or footing. Even a minor inconsistency, such as leg length or foot size difference may affect our striding while running, and thus affect our running performance.

Most of us may have one or both of this factors which is basically coped up by the body by trying to achieve an even stride. Since by nature our body moves in harmony with a rhythm, our chances are to find ways to take advantage of this and use it to maximize our level of performance.


Rhythm and cadence are the pillars for energy efficiency and injury prevention in running. A good cadence is what gives rhythm the power to reduce or prevent running injuries, and also maximize ones muscle activities with less energy use or what we call energy efficiency.

A good cadence reduces impact, avoids heel strike and reduces the accumulation of lactic acid which is a metabolic waste product that can stimulate fatigue. The standard cadence in running is 85-90 steps of the right foot (or left foot) per minute. Most athletes find this range of 85-90 steps or beat per minute (bpm) works for them and is one of the best way to conserve their energy, and is even recommended by running coaches.

The rapid turn over of legs in this type of running cadence helps in fast elimination of lactic acid within the muscles. Lactic acid is a byproduct of burning oxygen and sugar to produce energy. When a large amount of this chemical gets accumulated in the muscles this can hamper in the contraction of your muscles and thus lowers down your energy level and speeds up fatigue.

The best way to ease out the flow of these acids in to your blood stream is through rapid and light contraction of the muscle group concerned. These increases blood circulation on the concerned areas thus maintains your energy level and helps your muscles to perform at their best.

Prevent Injury

Aside from helping your muscles to use energy more efficiently, an even and high cadence is very useful in preventing foot and other sports related injury. Quicker steps in running reduce the amount of time the foot spends on the ground thus reducing the impact in each step.

If you are a keen observer, you will notice that there is a great difference between a slow stride and a quick foot turnover. The slower stride appears duller, tedious, and there is a lot of up and down movement than the one who employs a rapid foot turnover. Any energy employed in making an up and down motion that does not help you in moving forward is wasted.

Another disadvantage of slow striding is that it can result in having your heel or front foot land in front of your body, which is actually injurious and inefficient. Also note that heel strike often causes knee and hip injury in most runners.

On the other hand, quicker strides help athletes to land their foot under their body and in mid foot, thus reducing of heel-to-toe roll to be able to go to the next step. It also reduce the risk of a foot injury by minimizes the excess rotary motion of some supple tendons that may increase the risk of having an injury and shin splits.

Combat Fatigue

Another reason why some athletes becomes easily fatigued is due to their untimely effort to increase their cadence that results in their perceived effort level (PEL) or the increase in their heart rate causes them to exceed beyond their aerobic zones that leads to untimely exhaustion.

There are certain techniques by which one can combat untimely fatigue. One is to ensure that your striding is shortened as your cadence increases. To do this, let your heel float as you lift it up then land on your mid foot under your body just beneath the center of your gravity, relax your lower legs and keep your postures tall and slightly leaning forward.

Increasing your cadence by simply pushing harder with your toes will just result in fatigue and your effort will be wasted. Also resist the urge to push off the ground; soon you will notice the difference. Second, give your body time to adjust and adopt. Don’t rush your body by increasing your cadence too soon.

If your cadence is bellow 86-90 cadence per minute, don’t expect that your body to come up to the standard on just one training session. Try to condition your body by increasing even one step per minute or even two steps within the one week training period, and then gradually you can increase it every week.

This will greatly help you in injury prevention and gain energy efficiency. So just take it lightly but seriously.

So how are we going to achieve the standard cadence?

Find out your current cadence. You can use electronic metronomes for this task. You can ask your friend to help you out. Since it’s hard to work with the gadget while running, ask your friend to hold the gadget for you. Stay as close to your friend as possible so that he/she can easily see your right (or left) foot and match it with the clicking sound of the gadget.

Once you got you cadence, you can start from there and try to increase the number of your steps each week until you come up to the standard cadence of 85-90 steps bmp. Don’t forget to observe and pay attention to your PEL or your heart rate while running.

When you feel fatigued while running, examine your phasing and striding. You may be landing on the wrong side of your foot, or you may be pushing hard using your toes. You may be wasting a large amount of energy by doing this making you feel tired easily. Then correct and adjust your footing and striding.

Group Running

When running in a group, you may feel awkward with the sound produced by the electronic metronome; you may opt to break away from the group to avoid disturbing other runners. But you leave it off especially when you have adjusted and come up with your new phasing.

You can come back to it later and check out your cadence. In my case, when I run with my teammates during our training sessions, I used to keep distance from them, so that they aren’t able to hear the beating sound of the gadget.

But I guess it’s hard not to hear the beat while running, and some of my running mates liked the beeping sound, instead it also helps them to focus on their running, so all of us benefited. But of course it is a case to case basis.

Use It in Warm Up, and Cool Down

Last but not the least; make sure to maintain your cadence in between the 85-90 ranges even during the warm up and cool down phase. If you can derive benefit from a shorter and quicker stride while on a certain speed, then you can get the same benefit even if you employ the technique at all level of speed.

So just keep those feet moving and resist the tendency to fall back and go back to your plodding stride. If you intend to slow down just shorten your stride and lean less to slow down your pace.

A higher cadence will be very helpful when you are in transition from cycling then to running. This technique helps in rejuvenating your leg muscles. So resist the tendency to “run heavy” when you are in transition. Forget first about your brick workouts just keep steps light but quick. This will help your leg muscles and give it more time to make the necessary adjustments to make your performance more efficient.

So go ahead and put those principles into practice, listen to your body and be in touch with your natural rhythm. Make your running enjoyable and fun.

Why not tell us how you improve your stride, by posting a comment below…


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