New Running Tech Monitors Cadence and Footstrike

The old ways of recording training data have been soundly lapped and largely waylaid by new technologies that emerge, it seems, every day to help us track, analyze and share data on almost every aspect of our workouts.

Far afield from the basic pedometers and other crude wearables that have been around for years—including, now, even GPS devices which once seemed exotic—the new generation of training devices includes features that can measure stride length, heel-toe footstrike ratios, stance time and cadence. All of this is in addition to recording distance, pace, steps and calories, as most every app or wearable now does.

One such company is Milestone Sports, which manufactures a device for runners and walkers called the MilestonePod (now in its second version). The MilestonePod now tracks footstrike and delivers something called the Runficiency score, which analyzes cadence, stance time and stride length to deliver a running efficiency grade—something that may be valuable not only to look at personal improvements over time but to compare to other running-enthusiast acquaintances.

Wearables continue to get smaller even as they get more complex: Abandoning the armband model, this device attaches onto the runner's shoe, and can even keep track of mileage for that specific pair of shoes to help you determine when they need replacing.

Another company called iriver On makes Bluetooth headphones that monitor heart rate while playing music from your smartphone as you work out. Gone are the days of the clunky chest strap; this device receives phone calls and plays music while wirelessly sending your heart rate data to your phone. Both devices have accompanying apps that sync the detailed workout data to the smartphone for future analysis, either by you or by the software itself.

In this way, such technology is fast enabling not just activity logging, but a new wave of information crunching that then can offer the user recommendations to improve performance by delivering specific insights about the data. For example, after “observing” that one running cadence and stride length affected your pace better than another, a smart device might highlight the more favorable combination for you. Or perhaps you are landing in a heel-toe combination not optimal for the way your particular shoe was designed. In the not so distant future, expect recommendations for different shoe models or brands that might accommodate your footstrike better. Of course, by merely pointing this out, even without a shoe recommendation runners may gain a heightened sense of their running form and try to adopt a more favorable footstrike for the shoe they've got. Smart devices like these can also show you how your footstrike changes over the course of a run.

And finally, as smartwatches get lighter, less expensive and more streamlined in their designs, expect them to become increasingly fitness-specific. These watches will enable new levels of detailed daily activity-level monitoring for the general public in a way that is just not as feasible for larger, detached smartphones: Think of the stopwatch function on your old sports watch vs the stopwatch app buried in your smartphone—which is easier to activate? Not to mention that many pedometers like FitBit rely upon arm swing to determine steps taken. Beyond this, what runner hasn't fantasized about the end of the armband for holding the smartphone—or even chest strap, fanny pack or good “old fashioned” palm-of-hand toting method? Runners will welcome a watch that lugs music, mileage tracker, phone, stopwatch and route information all in one out on the open roads and trails. The beginning of that journey is nigh.

Milestone Sports, Ltd., 2014, www.milestonepod.com

iriver Inc., 2014, www.iriverinc.com

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