Use proper running pace to prevent serious injury

By Capt. Erin E. JohnsonJune 30, 2016

FORT LEE, Va. (June 30, 2016) -- Members of the armed forces take pride in being physically fit, which is a good thing because every branch of the service uses some form of mandatory testing to ensure troops have adequate strength and endurance to perform their military duties.

One of the most common measurements of fitness in the ranks is the individual's ability to complete a distance run (usually two or three miles) within a time limit based on the individual's gender and age. Successful completion of the event demonstrates good cardiovascular and overall aerobic health.

Unfortunately, there is a downside to this form of testing as well as the weekly formation runs that require participants to match the pace of the cadence caller and others in the group. The military community has witnessed a marked increase in musculoskeletal injuries as a result of poor running form. Some health experts have even labeled it as a "serious epidemic."

Fixing the problem is a matter of awareness and education. With the application of the correct techniques, injuries will be reduced and trainers will maintain the true health benefits of running.

Let's get the obvious injury prevention steps out of the way first. Every runner should warm the muscles with light-to-moderate exercise before hitting the treadmill, track or roadway. New runners should start with short distances and slowly increase the intensity. Don't focus on "feeling the burn;" concentrate on what feels comfortable with pace, balance and length.

Most experts agree the four primary characteristics to running form are posture, mid-foot strike (toe or heel is not first hitting the pavement), cadence and lean. The easiest of these to change, and possibly the key to immediate injury reduction, is the increase in stride rate or cadence. One study published by the National Center for Biotechnology Information revealed a 10 percent increase in the typical self-selected cadence of 172 steps-per-minute significantly decreased impact at the knee and hip joints.

Cadence calling usually averages 148 steps-per-minute during military unit runs. Some Soldiers treated at Kenner Army Health Clinic complain of lower back, hip or knee pain during group runs, which could be attributed to this slow cadence. A double-time march, according to Training Circular 3-21.5, section II, 4-14, should be at a cadence of 180 steps-per-minute. A slower rate of 148 spm is a decrease of 18 percent, which increases hip, knee and ankle impact.

A smartphone metronome app could be periodically used during a run to make sure the unit is maintaining the recommended "double-time-march" cadence. That and studying the running reports widely available on the internet would fit the category of training smarter, not harder.

The staff of the Orthopedics/Physical Therapy Clinic at KAHC is a good resource for exercise-related injury prevention information. Training videos and instructional pages with helpful graphics are available at Other helpful online resources include and the Army Public Health Center website at