Experimenting with Cadence

August 15, 2013


Recently I’ve taken up running again. Don’t worry, this isn’t some story of how glorious it has made me feel. Running sucks. I’ve been doing it for months now, and I’ve yet to have that stupid runner’s high that everybody talks about. I just feel moderately like crap when I’m done. At least that was the case until today.

Finally I managed to have a good day! I felt great. So what was different about today? Well, the pace was a little different. I altered my stride just a little bit. Held back a little. Focused more on each step. It felt like I was taking more frequent, smaller steps to go the same distance. Don’t get me wrong: I probably look like a fat man who is angry at the ground when I run. I’m nobody’s expert on running.

Regardless, it got me thinking about cadence (hey, I was bored and hyperventilating). It seemed like changing my stride, altering my cadence, might have a profound effect on my experience of running. Of course this should come as a surprise to absolutely no one. The sports world is full of great examples of the power of finding the right cadence. Apparently in cycling (another sport I know nothing about) Lance Armstrong’s magic pedaling cadence was responsible for some of his amazing performances in the mountains. Well, OK…it was that and a boat load of drugs. Maybe I’m doing it wrong…

But back to cadence: we all grow accustomed to doing things at a certain pace that is comfortable for us. Whether it is running, walking, working, writing, or chasing the kids, we all have a certain pace that we tend to move at. How could we change our pace in a fashion that might allow us to experience the work or the exercise differently. In the case of exercise, speeding up and slowing down is usually not all that hard to do. The cadence we use and the mechanisms we use to control it are fairly obvious: we shorten our stride, we don’t push quite as hard. Unfortunately, in the world of work the notion of cadence is a bit more subtle.

Take programming for example. One way to measure cadence is working sessions. Some people will use practices like the pomodoro technique to break up their work day into 25 minute blocks of working time with 5 minute breaks. Another example is the “pairing session” where you work together with someone else at pair programming for a fixed period of time (say 60 minute blocks). Now it might be good enough to just settle on a time that seems comfortable and run with it. However, I think there is an opportunity to experiment with cadence here. Let’s look at the pomodoro: why is a 25 minute working session the best length for you? Why couldn’t it be 20 minutes – or 30? How would you know which works best? By trying it out of course! If  you want to find the cadence that works best for you, you need to experiment with it and see how it feels.

At this point it’s probably worth mentioning that you aren’t likely to experience a runner’s high from programming (otherwise there would probably be a lot more people doing it). However, you might just find that you can sustain the work for longer overall durations by finding the working period that is tuned to what feels best to you. That would be a win wouldn’t it?

So don’t be afraid to play with your cadence. You just might find that you are able to find a mode of working that works better for you.