First—does running cadence matter? Yes and no. While a higher cadence does mean a faster speed, a number of elements go into increasing foot turnover rate that improve running performance.
What is Running Cadence?
Running cadence is the measurement of the number of steps per minute (SPM) taken during a run. It is one of a number of metrics runners use to measure performance.
This is a really technical way of saying the number of times your foot hits the ground.
- Try counting your foot falls on one side for 10 seconds
- Multiply that by 2 (to account for both feet)
- Multiply that by 6 (to account for 1 minute)
Example Running Cadence Calculation
If I counted 15 footfalls… 15 x 2= 30.
30 x 6 = 180… boom perfect cadence…maybe.
You may also hear this referred to as stride rate or stride frequency. This step rate, along with the stride length play a big role in your speed and the reduction of injuries…yup better cadence, less heel striking, less runners knee pain.
The more steps taken during a run, the faster the rate.
It may seem counterintuitive to want to strive for a shorter versus longer stride when you want to get faster, however shorter steps lead to higher turnover rate, less ground contact time and more time moving forward. Trust me it really works… let’s talk about why!
What is the Best Cadence for Running?
Legendary Olympic coach Jack Daniels counted the stride rate for 46 athletes at the 1984 Olympics and determined that all but one had a stride rate of at least 180 spm. Later, he also concluded that in his 20 years of coaching college athletes, not once did he see students with a stride frequency lower than 180.
This revelation led to the belief that 180 spm is the magic number for all runners to achieve. However, several factors, including height, fitness level, and mobility determine stride rate for every individual.
The truth is, the average runner has a stride rate ranging between 150 and 170, while sprinters might be over 200. And we often see the running cadence for beginners on the lower end of that 150, which ISN’T a bad thing, just a starting point to work from.
- For long or easy runs, you many not need to hit 180
- Aiming to progress to 160-170 for those runs could be enough
- For speed workouts or shorter races like a 5K, you’ll end up aiming for 180 or even over that
I like this cadence chart from Indie because it helps explain what I often see in my own running. Now that I have adapted to roughly a 175-180 cadence most of the time, I can run a lot of different paces at that cadence.
So cadence alone is not a predictor of speed, but a component that helps.
See below for ways to increase your running cadence correctly.
Is Higher Running Cadence Better?
A cadence lower than 160 strides per minute is typically seen in runners who overstride. Runners who overstride land with a heel strike that halts the forward motion required for running and means the hip and knee joints take in a lot of force with every step.
HEEL STRIKING (ok and weak hips and not warming up) are what tend to lead to a lot of the most common running injuries.
Checkout this video for an example drill that will help you get your brain used to your feet landing UNDER your body, which will force you to improve cadence.
A higher cadence has been shown to result in:
- More efficient running form
- Increase in running speed with form efficiency
- Less impact on the hip and knee joints
- Correcting overstriding
- Fewer injuries caused by heel striking
- More air time, which means softer landings with each step
- Less braking force with ground contact
All that said, it’s important to note that a faster cadence doesn’t necessarily make someone a better runner. Everyone runs differently as noted above.
How to Measure Your Running Cadence
These days, most runners own a GPS running watch with a built in sensor that tracks our cadence. If you don’t have a watch to do the work for you, utilize the formula mentioned previously.
This is very easy on a treadmill, but can quickly be done outside as you get used to checking in:
- Count your foot falls on one side for 10 seconds
- Multiply that by 2 (to account for both feet)
- Multiply that by 6 (to account for 1 minute)
I will often do this quick check to make sure what I’m seeing on my watch is accurate, so that I’m not incorrectly changing my stride.Is 180 the perfect cadence? Maybe not, but here's why you need to pay attention to yours and how to improve! #runchat #running Click To Tweet
How to Increase Running Cadence?
Just like increasing distance, you’ll want to work slowly as you increase your stride rate, aiming for no more than 5-10% at a time.
- Don’t spend your entire run focused on it, that can make you crazy
- Instead after you’ve been running a bit, check in with your stride
- Start doing running drills before your run to help cement that stride in your subconscious
- If you currently run at 160 spm, then aim for 168 over the next week or so before increasing by another five percent.
- Include running strides at the end of an easy run each week
- Reaching your desired stride rate can take anywhere from six to eight weeks.
- Go slowly in order to avoid injury and soreness.
Running Cadence App
One of the most commonly recommended running apps to help with cadence is a metronome. Running to a metronome set to a specific beat is a great way to increase your cadence slowly.
This drill will help you to see what it feels like to quicken your foot turn over and different rates. It’s a drill and not meant for you to go from 150-190 for your entire run.
- Start by matching the beat to your current running pace and do short bursts at that speed in order to get accustomed to running with the beat.
- Next increase it by 5-10 beats and run a quarter to half mile using that cadence.
- Next increase it by another 5-10 beats and repeat
- Do this until you’ve actually done run at 190 beats
Once you know your current cadence, you an also use the metronome to help you increase by just 5% during your next easy run. Set the metronome accordingly and allow yourself to naturally adapt to that beat. Work toward building your stride rate at this speed over longer distances and at different speeds before increasing again.
Music at 180 BPM
Another far more fun thing to use during your run is a song with a beat of 180. You can find a few different options for this by Googling and maybe some of your favorite songs will popup so you can create your own playlist.
Alternatively, the JogTunes app allows you to select music based on a certain number of beats per minute. JogTunes also has playlists on Spotify and Apple Music, as well as YouTube playlists and a podcast.
Speed Drills to Increase Stride Rate
As mentioned above, the real key to improving cadence is to increase your strength, fitness, and speed.
Practice the exercises below 2-3 times per week during your strength training sessions or as part of your warm up.
Marching Drills to Improve Knee Drive
To increase your cadence, you need to first change where your foot lands with each step. Ideally, it should be landing directly below your center of gravity, which will increase turnover rate. You can retrain your stride with marching drills.
Start by marching in place. Pump your arms in a 90-degree angle as you raise your legs straight up. Keep your focus forward and try to avoid looking down. Eventually, you can progress to a marching jog.
A number of variations on this are demonstrated in the video above!
- Not only are we getting the foot under the body, we’re working on knee drive
- Your knee should come up in front of you during the run, not push behind you
- It’s more efficient and more powerful overtime
After an easy run, find a 200-meter long hill with a gentle grade and run 4-5 running strides down the hill, reaching top speed toward the bottom. Walk up to recover.
Because running downhill can be harder on the knees and quads, DO NOT overdo this. Instead, just remember this a drill to work on turn over, not a long drawn out run.
Jumping Rope for Ground Force
You don’t even need an actual rope to benefit from this childhood fun. (See video below for best form)
- Keeping your legs straight
- Focus on the press off the ground
- We’re working on the power in your feet and ankles to push away
- Start with 30 seconds, keep increasing it as far as you’d like
Because of the straight legs and impact, definitely start with the smaller time and work up allowing your knees to adapt.
Beyond that drill, any kind of jump roping will add additional benefits as you’re forced to pick up your feet and speed.
Four Square Hops for Additional Power and Stability
Beyond jumping rope, there are other jumps we can add in to help improve our ground contact force, as well as the power in our lower legs.
Imagine a large plus sign on the ground (you can also visit your local elementary school and look for the four square box, bust out some chalk, or use tape to draw your own) and hop on one leg counterclockwise for the given reps, and then on the other leg. Repeat the pattern in the opposite direction. Do 2-3 sets in each direction for 8-12 reps.
Skips for Runners
I believe this drill has been one to make the biggest difference for me recently. I started with the marches to improve knee drive and then progressed to A and B skips, followed by a butt kick drill I’ll be sharing soon.
These are SO KEY, I’ll be adding a video ASAP because descriptions alone aren’t enough.
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Fast Feet for…Fast Feet
You may remember something like this from PE class. You’re literally standing in place and then moving your feet super fast while pumping your arms. You’ll be keeping your feet low to the ground in this movement.
Ideally if on grass you can be using those fast feet to move you forward, this is harder on concrete because your feet are staying so close to the ground.
There you have it! A bunch of tools to help increase your cadence, which at the same time will also go towards improving your running speed without having even added a speed workout!
Have you tried to increase your cadence? What worked for you?
Has your cadence increased as a result of focusing on speed drills?
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