What Is Running Cadence?

Want to run faster and decrease your chances of injury? Then you’ll want to improve your running cadence

If you’ve been running for any significant length of time you’ve likely encountered the term ‘running cadence’, and if you have, you may well be looking to increase yours.

But what is it, and why does it matter?

Why does cadence matter?

Simply put, running cadence is the amount of times your feet touch the ground as you run. Increasing your cadence can:

A) Help you run faster

Fast runners often have a high cadence rate says Nikki Reiter, a biomechanist and coach at the Run S.M.A.R.T Project. “By shortening your stride length and increasing your cadence, you force yourself to take smaller steps, with your foot landing directly underneath you,” she says.

“This minimises up/down movement and translates that energy into forward momentum. Once you have your stride rate sorted, you can gradually increase your stride length to gain more speed.”

So: take shorter strides at a faster tempo, then slowly, over time, widen your strides while keeping the same tempo.

B) Reduce the risk of injury

“Typically, the less rapid your cadence, the more susceptible you are to injury because of the slow, heavy force and impact that happens with each foot fall,” explains William Gates, founder of IronWill Running. “What’s more, when your cadence is less rapid, you’re more likely to overextend your leg out in front of your body, which means it’s absorbing a whole lot of force with each step.”

The less rapid your cadence, the more susceptible you are to injury

A recent study Japanese study showed that when runners adopted a step frequency that was around 15% faster than their ‘preferred’ cadence, the ‘joint-loading’ on their lower legs significantly decreased – less likelihood of injuries.

How to measure your cadence

On your next run, count the number of times your feet strike the ground in a minute. To make it easier, pick either your right or left foot, count the number of times it strikes the ground in 60 seconds, and multiply that by two. This is your training cadence.

Of course, if you want to be all flashy about it there are a number of running watches on the market that’ll accurately tell you your cadence.

What should your running cadence be?

The most common number that crops up when hardcore pavement-pounders talk about running cadence is 180 – as in, you should be taking 180 steps a minute when you run, otherwise you’re ‘doing it wrong’. But this isn’t strictly true, and 180 is really only a benchmark for elite athletes.

Every runner has his or her ideal running cadence

The truth is that every runner has his or her ideal running cadence, and there is no magic number that should be aspired to. 

How to improve it

“First, establish your baseline cadence for all your training speeds,” says William Gates. “By which I mean, work out what your usual cadence is when running at a warm-up pace, an easy pace, a 5k pace, a long-distance pace, a tempo pace.

“On a treadmill, begin at warm-up pace and increase the speed by one minute per mile until you’re at the next pace up. As you reach each training pace – easy, marathon, tempo – give yourself a minute or so to adjust to the speed, then count your steps for 30 seconds. Multiply by two, record the number, then accelerate to your next pace.

“You should see that as your speed increases, your cadence increases. You can also do this on a running track using intervals of 800 to 1,200 meters.”

The easiest way to quicken your cadence is to run with a metronome

The easiest way to quicken your cadence is to run with a metronome (yes, there’s an app for that). You can also use sites like JogTunes to find music with beats that match your desired cadence turnover. Technology, ay!

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