Tracking your running cadence can ultimately help you become a better, faster runner but there is not one specific universal cadence that everyone should aim to run at.
There is a range that you should strive to be in.
Running cadence refers to the number of times your feet hit the ground within a specified amount of time (usually a minute). So logically, if you increase the number of steps you’re running in a minute, you’ll be moving forward faster.
There are several factors that impact your optimal running cadence, including your height, weight, leg length, stride, and general running ability.
Before we get into all of that, let’s find out more about running cadence and what it actually is…
Everything You Need To Know About Cadence
There are two ways that running cadence can be defined.
- The total number of times your feet will hit the ground (steps taken) in a minute or another defined period of time. Running cadence is therefore measured in strides per minute (spm).
- The second is calculated by tracking the number of steps only one of your feet takes during a minute. Some popular fitness brands, such as Polar, use this definition of running cadence in their running watches and other fitness gadgets.
Running cadence and the length of a runner’s stride are the two factors that affect a runner’s speed.
Therefore, if you want to become a faster runner…
You should either increase the number of steps you take in a minute (your running cadence) or the length of your strides.
For beginner and recreational runners, the average running cadence is anywhere between 160-170 spm, and cadences lower than 160 spm are usually seen in runners who tend to overstride.
More experienced runners and elite runners usually aim to have an optimal cadence of 180 steps per minute.
How To Increase Your Running Cadence
Increasing your running cadence takes time but it is doable.
There are 3 things that you can try to gradually improve your strides per minute.
1. Build it up slowly
2. Try using a metronome
3. Run on the spot
Build it up slowly
You can start to increase your running cadence by upping your regular cadence by about 5-10% in one or two of your weekly runs.
You could also alternate between your normal running cadence and a slightly faster cadence during your runs. So run normally for about 5 minutes and then run at a faster cadence for one minute.
Alternating with distance also works for this technique. So, for example, you’d run every 4th or 5th kilometer at a higher cadence.
Once you get more used to that running cadence try running a 5 or 10k with that new running cadence and see how it goes. From there you can just keep increasing it slowly and incorporating it into your weekly runs without stressing your body and leg muscles.
Try using a metronome
Metronomes are devices that are used to keep a specific time or rhythm. They produce a set number of clicks or beats per minute which you can follow without having to manually keep count of how many steps you’re taking.
It’s very easy to lose track of your running cadence if you’re monitoring it without the help of any gadgets and you’ll often increase or decrease your speed as you run without meaning to do so. This is why metronomes are so handy for runners as they help you to keep your stride without even thinking about it.
You can set the number of clicks per minute the metronome will produce so you can easily start to increase your running cadence by gradually setting it a little bit higher until you’ve reached your goal running cadence.
Run on the spot
There are a number of running drills you can do to help increase your cadence but a simple, easy one that you can do at home is to run in place.
To do this drill start by standing with your feet hip-width apart and then run on the spot as fast as you can for 20 seconds.
When you run in place, lift your knees halfway so that they point forwards and run on the balls of your feet making sure your heels don’t touch the floor.
Rest for a minute after the 20 seconds of fast running and then repeat two or three more times. This drill is easy and quick to do at home in your free time and helps to train your feet to move off the ground quicker which will help to increase your running cadence.
You can do this drill a few times per week and keep track of how many times your feet hit the ground in the 20-second period. In this case, counting the number of times one of your feet strikes the ground will be easier to keep track of so choose either your right or left foot to focus on. If the number gets higher, you will know that you are getting quicker and improving your running cadence.
How Important Is Running Cadence?
Effectively the faster we run, the higher our cadence tends to be and that will also be different from person to person.
As a faster runner, I would typically have a higher cadence than a slower runner. But I will also have a higher cadence when I’m running faster than when I’m running slower.
We shouldn’t manipulate cadence much.
There have been loads of articles put out there about cadence, both in scientific literature, as well as in your everyday magazines… it has become quite the buzzword.
This has caused a lot of coaches to focus heavily on cadence…
I feel that they have been a little pressured into making these decisions because research very clearly shows that whenever we manipulate cadence, running form, or anything to do with our running = When we manipulate it artificially… without question… we become less efficient.
Time and time again, research paper after research paper, we become less efficient when we manipulate our running stride or our cadence and our running form or biomechanics.
Your body will find the most efficient cadence for you.
This will change depending on how tired you are, the distance you’re running, and the speed at that you’re running.
Every single step you take while running provides your body with a new learning opportunity.
What happens is that your body gets biomechanical feedback and then makes small adjustments to find the most efficient way for you to run.
Fun Cadence Fact: Where did the 180 Steps per Minute come from?
The cadence ‘rule of thumb’ of 180 spm as the running cadence number you should aim for has been around since the 1984 Olympics.
A running coach by the name of Jack Daniels noted that the vast majority of the Olympic athletes’ race cadence exceeded 180spm.
What Is a Good Running Cadence?
You’re probably wondering ‘What should my cadence be for running?’ and chances are you’ve read or heard that 180spm is the optimal running cadence, but that is not the case and is a finding that has been repeatedly taken out of its original context.
Every runner is different and needs to find the cadence that works for them as individuals.
Running cadence also depends on your weight, height, and general running ability as well as the types of runs you are doing.
For a long-distance run, your running cadence will be slower than during your speedwork and races so it’s a good idea to know what your different cadences are for your easy, normal, and tempo runs as well as for your half marathons, marathons, and other races.
To know what your cadences are, you need to monitor your running cadence in each of those types of runs, either with one of your running gadgets or just count your steps manually for a minute at a time now and then in your run (although this won’t be as accurate).
If you are counting your steps manually, you can count the number of times your right or left foot strikes the ground in 30 seconds and then multiply that number by 4 to get your running cadence.
Once you know your natural running cadence you can then work on improving and increasing it by practicing the methods mentioned in the section above.
Running Cadence & Injuries
We can’t repeat this enough… we highly recommend adding strength training and mobility training to your training routine FIRST to reduce injury but…
Studies have shown that slightly higher running cadences can help prevent injuries from occurring as it affects an athlete’s running form.
A faster running cadence takes stress off the knee and hip joints because there is less jarring than a long stride. This decreases the likelihood of injuries surrounding those areas, which are very common in runners.
Runners with a higher cadence have a shorter stride length than runners with a lower cadence who tend to take longer strides and put more load onto their heels when their foot hits the ground. This can not only slow you down but also contribute to injuries.
So… gradually increasing your stride rate can help you become a better runner while also preventing injuries.