Month #2 – How to Establish Safe Running Mechanics (that are fast!) in Two Months

Article 3 of 3: Establish a High Cadence in Month Two  – Speed

In article 2 of this series you learned how to establish safe running biomechanics in one month (by establishing a short stride). You were instructed to run slowly during month 1 to provide your body ample time to adjust to the short stride.  Now, in month 2, you are ready to start running faster with your safe running biomechanics.  This is accomplished by establishing a quick cadence, or stride rate. The ultimate goal is to safely build speed by using short, quick steps.

Month 2 Goal: Establish a Quick Cadence (about 90 steps/minute)

In month 2 you will gradually build the speed of your runs. You need to be careful during this month of training. When you first attempt to run faster, your natural tendency may be to take big, powerful strides. Don’t do it! That would put you right back on the path towards discomfort and injury. Instead, stay committed to the biomechanically-friendly short strides you worked hard to establish in month one—you just need to focus on moving your feet a little faster.

Your goal should be to establish a cadence of approximately 90 strides per minute. It is common knowledge in the running community that a cadence of 90+ is quick and a good target to strive for. Most recreational runners are well below 90. With short strides, it should be pretty easy for you to establish a cadence of approximately 90.

Determine you Cadence 

Determining your cadence is easy. When running, simply focus on a single foot and count how many times it contacts the ground in a minute. You could also count a single foot for 30 seconds and multiply by 2.

Continue 3 Workouts per Week

During this second month of training you will continue to complete three 20 minute runs each week. But now you will dedicate a portion of each run to establishing a high cadence (and running faster). In week 1, your goal is to complete 5 minutes of faster, high cadence running. Then add 5 minutes of faster, high cadence running each week. By the end of the month you will be comfortably running fast with a high cadence for the entire 20 minutes (and feel good doing it)!

Run at the Top of your “Comfort Zone”

So how fast should you run? The answer is: run as fast as you can comfortably. Definitely “challenge” your lungs—you want to breathe hard and build fitness! But you must carefully monitor your legs—if you feel discomfort in your legs you should slow down. Ideally, you will run just below the pace that would cause your legs to “burn”. If you push your legs too hard you will “over-train”, fatigue, and struggle to complete the program. Seriously, the entire month of training should feel comfortable and be enjoyable!


Many of you will be tempted to run at a pace that is “comfortably uncomfortable” (instead of comfortable) because you are motivated and tough. Don’t do it! Stay in the “comfort zone” so that your legs and body have a month to adjust to the high cadence. There is no reason to push it too hard—you will build tremendous fitness and speed running 3 times per week at the top end of your comfort zone. You can push it a bit more (if you like) after this second month of training is completed.


Once again, you should expect to feel great while running. And you should expect to feel great after the runs—the safe mechanics should prevent you from feeling sore or fatigued immediately after and/or the next day.

Continue to Use Intervals

Feel free to use “intervals” or breaks, just like we did in the month 1 training program. For example, for the first two workouts of each week, I recommend breaking your “fast running” assignment into intervals. But no intervals for the third workout of the week!

Here is an example interval approach that would be great for week 1:

Workout 1 Workout 2 Workout 3
  • 3 minutes of “slow” running
  • 1 minute of “fast running”
  • Repeat cycle 5 times
  • 2 minutes slow running
  • 1 minute fast running
  • Repeat cycle 5 times
  • Finish with 5 minutes slow running
  • 5 minutes slow running
  • 5 minutes fast running
  • Finish with 10 minutes slow running


Focus on these mechanics

To establish a high cadence focus on the following:

1)      Establish the “Pawback” foot motion. Pawback means that you begin to pull your foot back just before it lands. When you use the pawback, there is no “delay”, your foot begins pushing you forward as soon as it contacts the ground. This is extremely efficient—this action keeps your “foot contact time” brief and it eliminates braking forces.  If you can do this, you will establish a high cadence and run a lot faster.




2)      Keep the push forward short and sweet. Once your foot lands, give a quick push. Don’t push too hard or for too long—you will fatigue your leg muscles. Instead, just focus on being quick and minimizing the amount of time your foot is in contact with the ground.

3)      Pull your foot forward immediately. APush Forwardfter the brief push, it is critical to immediately pull your foot forward. If you let your foot “take a break” after pushing, your cadence will suffer. To maintain a high cadence, you need to keep your feet moving.





Foot Forward

After pushing, immediately pull your foot forward.








4) Pull your foot forward quickly. This requires continual focus—when you fatigue it is awfully easy to let your feet get “lazy” (you may start pulling your feet forward slowly). That could put you at great risk of injury. Stay focused and don’t make that mistake. When you fatigue, a better way to compensate your mechanics would be to: shorten your stride even more. Simply take short “choppy” steps until you recover. This approach will allow you to maintain your high cadence and safe biomechanics. Be consistent: stay committed to the high cadence and soft landings.

5) Keep your foot close to the ground. Avoid raising your feet high off the ground. Doing so will lengthen your stride, slow your cadence, and it may quickly fatigue your leg muscles. Again, think about gliding along with your feet close to the ground. Your shank (lower leg) should be lifted to parallel with the ground (or less). If your shank goes beyond parallel, it will be difficult to keep a high cadence.

Leg Parallel

Expect the High Cadence to Engage your Brain

These tips reveal that running with a high cadence requires some serious focus. Personally, I love this—it keeps my brain fully engaged—even on slow runs. Not surprisingly, this makes it pretty easy to get in a “rhythm” or even “zone” while running.


Great for Running Fast and Stroller Pushing

And, yes, you can run extremely fast with shorts strides! Lots of elite runners do it and so do many elite triathletes (including recent world champions).

Short strides are absolutely awesome for stroller running! Short strides keep your legs in their “wheelhouse”. Your legs land in a strong position and then give a short push—this approach makes it easy to comfortably handle the extra load.

I’ll conclude with some pictures of me demonstrating faster paces with short strides (regular and stroller running). I run with very short strides and a very high cadence (about 105).

 High Fast Cadence

High Cadence with Stroller


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