How The Perfect Playlist Can Injury-Proof Your Run

Hi there folks!

I’ve had a burst of optimism this week as I have officially been given the all-clear to run again. I’ve been resting my foot for the last few weeks after I strained a tendon under the arch during a rather intense sprint session. Oh, the joys of running injuries.

Anyway, I went out for a short 3km run this morning, and I couldn’t have felt happier. I had almost forgotten how much I actually enjoy running: it’s my stress release, it clears my head and makes me feel free. The only thing that surpasses my love for running is my hate for the rowing machine, which has been my default cardio substitute during Crossfit WODs (seriously, I’d rather do burpees.)

Now I’m running again, I can practice what we learned at the Pose running workshop, which I posted about here. One interesting technique I touched on was to focus on the number of steps you take per minute, known as running cadence or stride rate. This technique can be beneficial to all runners, so read on even if you don’t run ‘Pose’.

The Optimal Stride Rate For Fast And Efficient Running: 180 Steps Per Minute

I bet most of you who run have never really thought about your stride rate. I know I never used to! If you’re like me, it’s probably a lot slower than 180 steps per minute. But it’s been found that the most efficient runners run with this high foot turnover, a point that was  reiterated by uber runner Sally Lynch at the Pose workshop.

The benefits of a higher cadence:

  • It forces you to take shorter, lighter steps
  • This reduces the amount of impact on your body
  • Even if you run with a heel strike, increasing your cadence will still reduce some of the impact. It will just feel like you’re doing more of a “shuffle”, like you’re a geisha in platform flip-flops.
    Less impact = less risk of injury!
  • It increases your forward momentum, meaning you use less energy for each step.
    Less energy expenditure = greater efficiency = faster running!
  • If you slip on wet ground, you’re more likely to catch yourself from falling. Think about it –  if you’re taking big, loping strides and your front foot slips out from under you and your other foot is lagging way behind, bang! You’ve just done the splits, torn your shorts and quite possibly a hammy as well.

Simple Ways To Run With 180 Steps Per Minute

Method #1:

Get on the treadmill and watch the timer, taking 3 steps every second. Initially this may feel weird! Remember, you will need to take smaller steps to keep up with the fast pace. Imagine you’re running over hot coals. Like this guy:

hot coals
Method #2:

If you’re like me and find treadmills dreadfully tedious, you can download a metronome app for your phone or get a small handheld metronome. This way you can even set it slightly slower, like 175 or 178 if you find 180 too fast. I actually recorded 10 minutes of 180BPM (beats per minute) clicks using a metronome app, saved it as an mp3 and popped it on my iPod.

Initially, this was a great way to really nail the pace, but after a while the repetitive clicking in my head became like Chinese water torture. I needed my music back. Which brings me to:

Method # 3:

Create a playlist of songs with 180 or 90 beats per minute.  This is awesome as you just run along to the beat. To display the BPM of songs in iTunes, download the trial version of Beatunes, which scans your whole music library, extracts a heap of song data and imports it to iTunes.

Once you’ve done this, go to View > View Options and checked Beats Per Minute under “Show Columns” in iTunes. Then simply create a smart playlist based on your desired range of beats per minute. I chose a range from 176-185 BPM and 88-92 BPM. It doesn’t matter if they’re not exactly 90 or 180, but as close as possible is best.

Not all the songs that come up will be ideal for running (“Poses” by Rufus Wainwright, for example…oh the irony), so have a listen first and have a go at tapping along to the beats. If you can’t easily tap your hand to it, you probably won’t be able to match your running pace to it either!

There are a couple of good Rock and Hip Hop playlists on Spotify here and here, or a screen dump of the playlists here. Below is the playlist I currently run to.

The Next Step: Give It A Go

If you want to run more efficiently and reduce your risk of injury, I highly recommend you give the 180 stride rate trick a go. It’s easy to do, and who knows, it may actually make you enjoy the run! But remember it will take some getting used to, so be patient and allow time for your body (and mind) to adjust.

See you at the next race!