Everything You Need to Know About Running Cadence
Take control of your cadence for faster running.
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Running can seem like innate movement pattern, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s simple. If you think about it, a lot goes into the running stride. For example, your arms and legs need to move in a coordinated but reciprocal pattern, you want to land on your mid-foot, and you want your stride to be long enough that it’s efficient, but short enough that you can take lighter and quicker steps.
Your running form, foot strike, and your cadence all factor into your running economy and performance. While most runners are relatively well versed in running form and foot strike, running cadence is often not a frequent topic of discussion, yet it can have important implications on your pace, injury risk, and efficiency as a runner.
Here, we’ll look at running cadence, which is your stride rate, or how many steps you are taking per minute as you run. We will discuss why it matters, factors that affect running cadence, discuss whether there is an ideal running cadence, and present actionable ways to change your running cadence.
What is Running Cadence?
Your running cadence is the number of steps you take per minute as you run. It is often represented as STP for steps per minute, and can also be thought of as stride rate or stride frequency.
Your speed is a product of your stride length and your cadence. In other words, the longer your stride, the more ground you cover and the more strides you can do per minute also increases the ground you cover.
How to calculate running cadence.
You can determine your running cadence by either counting how many steps you take in a minute while you run, or by counting how many times one foot falls over a certain interval of time and then extrapolate that same rate for both feet for a full minute.
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For example, you can count how many times your right foot falls while running for 15 seconds. Multiply this number by 2 to account for both feet. Then, multiply that result by 4 to extrapolate the pace for the full 60 seconds in a minute.
If your right foot lands 22 times in 15 seconds, you take 44 steps with both feet in 15 seconds. Then, multiply 44 by 4 to get 176 steps per minute. Your running cadence would be 176 SPM.
How Cadence Affects Your Performance
Ultimately, most runners want to run as fast as possible at the same effort level. In other words, we’d like our cruising speed to improve. Your running cadence is one of two things that determines your running speed. Essentially, how fast you run is determined by your stride length multiplied by your stride rate, or cadence: Running speed = stride length x strides rate
Therefore, to run faster, you can increase your stride length, cadence, or both. However, here’s where things get interesting and the scales start to tip in favor of increasing your cadence: there’s evidence to suggest that increasing stride length can increase the risk of injuries because it increases impact or loading forces.
In contrast, research suggests that increasing your cadence by about 5–10 percent above your current stride frequency can actually reduce the risk of musculoskeletal stress and resultant injuries by reducing the impact and loading on your hip and knee joints, decreasing the braking force when your feet contact the ground, and reducing your vertical ossification (bouncing or up-and-down motion).
Essentially, a higher running cadence keeps your feet closer to a position under your body (reducing stride length), which takes stress off the lower limbs. For example, one study found that a 10 percent increase in step rate yielded significant improvements in running kinematics, function, and pain levels in runners with patellofemoral pain syndrome.
The reduction in knee pain that coincides with an increase in running cadence could be because a higher step rate has been associated with increased muscle activation of the gluteus maximus and medius, which helps take the load off of the knee.
Another study found that a higher running cadence was independently associated with a lower risk of bone stress injuries in runners. In fact, the relative risk decreased by 5 percent with each one step/min increase in step rate.
A higher step rate can also improve your running economy.
So, what is the ideal running cadence?
Is there an ideal running cadence? It wasn’t too many years ago that nearly any running coach or running guru would immediately respond with 180 steps per minute as the ideal running cadence. This “magic” 180 cadence was popularized in Jack Daniels Running Formula, one of the preeminent training tomes for the running community.
While Daniels was probably not far off the mark, most researchers note that there’s more likely a range for the ideal running cadence, based on factors like the height of the runner, the terrain, individual biomechanics, and most importantly, their speed.
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Taller runners typically have a slightly slower running cadence, and trail runners usually have a higher cadence. In general, faster runners have a higher cadence (closer to 190 for elite marathoners) and recreational runners and beginners have a slower cadence, closer to 170-174 steps per minute.
If you’re running closer to 9:00 pace or slower, a running cadence of 170 steps per minute is probably sufficient, but if you want to run 7:30 miles or faster, aim for a running cadence of 180 or faster.
The good news is that you can train yourself to increase your running cadence.
How to Increase Your Running Cadence
Changing anything about your running form or stride can feel really awkward and uncomfortable at first, since you’re accustomed to running without really needing to think about it. However, trying to make small increases in your running cadence can pay off in the long term, and you don’t have to make drastic shifts all at once. In fact, it’s actually best to increase your running cadence gradually and just do a little bit of dedicated cadence training per run.
Here are a few suggestions for how to increase your running cadence:
Use a metronome.
There are metronome apps for runners, such as Smart Metronome and Run Tempo, or you can use an actual metronome for music practice to guide the cadence while you run. The metronome will provide audio cues for how fast to move your feet.
You can opt to use the metronome the whole run, to ensure you’re stepping in time, or you can shut it off and turn it on periodically while running to see if you’re maintaining the proper cadence.
Start to increase the beat by 5 percent, and try to hold that cadence while you run for the next mile. Afterwards, allow your body to run at whatever cadence feels normal.
For example, if you determine your cadence is 160 SPM, increase to 168 SPM (160 x 1.05).
The next time you head out the door, try to hit 2 miles at 168 SPM. Once your whole run is at 168 steps per minute, increase your running cadence by another 5 percent for one mile again (168 x 1.05 = 176.4) to 176 SPM.
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Running strides or accelerations after a run can help you increase your turnover and speed.
Uphill sprints tend to get all the love when it comes to training, but downhill work has its place, as it can help you increase your cadence. When your body is working with gravity, it’s easier to increase your next leg down and stride frequency.
You don’t want to do too much downhill work, as it can cause excessive stress and pounding on your body, but occasional workouts can do wonders for your turnover.
Start by running downhill accelerations of 100-200 meters long. Choose a gradual or moderate downhill slope, preferably on grass or a softer surface to attenuate impact forces. Run 4-6 repeats with the fastest turnover you can handle, accelerating throughout the duration of the hill until you’re at the bottom.
After a few weeks, extend the acceleration by continuing on the flat ground after the downhill, trying to maintain the same max running cadence you achieve on the downhill.
Jumping rope—quick, fast jumps like a boxer—is a good way to get some footwork in and increase your turnover. It’s also a great way to warm up before a run.
Hop on an indoor trainer.
Pedaling on an indoor bike trainer on a very low level of resistance is a good way to train your legs to go faster.
Pump your arms.
Your arm swing drives your legs, so pumping your arms faster and more vigorously can help drive the legs to keep pace.