The correct cadence for running is widely debated among athletes and coaches worldwide. While there’s no “perfect” number, most experts have agreed to a range you should aim for.
Well, improving your cadence helps you run faster with less effort while reducing your risk of injury.
Most running-related injuries occur for one of three reasons: over-striding, heel striking, and incorrect cadence. You’ll be happy to know that cadence is the most important and easiest to remedy. We’ll look at how many steps per minute is best so you can train toward achieving this… and having no knee issues!
Let’s first look at what running cadence is and how your cadence and stride length impact your running. Then we’ll get into running cadences – what is typically considered a good running cadence, why cadence is important, and how to find your running cadence.
- What is Running Cadence?
- How Cadence and Stride Length Impact Your Running
- What’s a Good Running Cadence?
- Is a Faster Cadence Really Better?
- So Is Cadence Important When Running?
- Other Important Running Metrics
- How To Measure Your Cadence
- 4 Ways to Increase Your Cadence
- Key Takeaways on Running Cadence
- Higher Cadence Can Lead to Better Performance
What is Running Cadence?
Cadence is sometimes also called stride rate. Your running cadence refers to how many steps per minute (spm) you take while running. Put simply, your cadence is how fast your legs turn over as you run.
The thing about running cadence is that it’s long been used as a performance metric, but recent studies have suggested that we may have been focussing too much on a specific running cadence rather than a personalized stride rate based on the runner.
Your cadence is determined by many factors, including your running style, body composition, age, and the type of session you’re doing.
A fast cadence (i.e., a higher spm rate) doesn’t automatically make you a better runner. So, instead of using the one-size-fits-all approach we’ve been touting for decades, we should start thinking about cadence differently.
How Cadence and Stride Length Impact Your Running
We can’t discuss the importance of cadence without looking at stride length, as they walk hand-in-hand in affecting your performance. Your running speed (i.e., your pace) is a combination of the two:
Cadence (spm) x stride length = running speed
Two runners can run at the same speed but with different running cadences. This is because one runner has a slow cadence and a long stride, and the other has a fast cadence with a short stride.
When you run with a shorter stride length, you’ll need a faster stride rate (spm) to run faster. But if you have a long stride, you run with fewer strides while keeping up with runners with shorter stride lengths. Runners with longer strides also have bouncier runs, which may lead to overstriding and injuries.
A faster cadence and shorter stride length allow you to run faster and more efficiently with a decreased risk of injury.
A shortened stride is a bonus in that it changes where your foot lands below your body. The ideal placement is to land directly beneath your hips. Your body automatically does this when you increase your cadence and reduce your stride length. This foot placement is at the center of gravity when you’re running, the point with the lowest impact.
A faster cadence increases your turnover rate and propels you forward at a faster pace with less energy wastage.
All runners have a natural cadence and stride length they’ll find comfortable. But if you want to be a better runner and reduce your risk of injury, increasing your cadence and shortening your stride is the way to go. Let’s see what a good cadence is.
What’s a Good Running Cadence?
Today, it’s accepted that there’s no one-size-fits-all cadence recommendation, as your height, strength, running style, and mechanics all play a role in your cadence.
But for many decades, the conventional belief was that the optimal running cadence was 180 steps per minute. This spm means that each foot comes into contact with the ground 90 times per minute.
So where did this long-standing recommendation come from?
Jack Daniels, the legendary coach (not the popular whiskey), analyzed how elite runners performed at the 1984 Olympic Games. He noticed that the runners performing in the finals had a cadence of between 180 and 200 spm.
As this was a commonality between all the elite runners, it became accepted that this was the training benchmark. Running coaches worldwide started pushing their athletes to meet this cadence to improve their speed and form.
But, over time, this idea has been unpacked and studied, and it was found that, as with everything else to do with running metrics, the ideal running cadence for peak performance was personal to each athlete.
Taller runners with longer legs, for example, usually have a slower running cadence as their strides are naturally longer. Forcing them to shorten their strides can cause more problems than solutions.
Is a Faster Cadence Really Better?
As we established, the 180 spm recommendation is really more of a guideline than a goal, so are there any benefits to running with a faster cadence?
Yes! But it’s actually all about your stride length.
Taking faster, shorter steps is more efficient and places less impact on your body. When you over-stride, you’re stretching your leg much further than necessary, and a longer stride often means you’re heel striking.
In and of itself, heel striking isn’t necessarily a bad thing (don’t get us started with this debate, though), but when paired with over-striding, the forces placed on your body are amplified, increasing your risk of injury and strains.
So, running with a shorter stride reduces your injury risk and minimizes your risk of straining your leg muscles and tendons. You’ll also find running easier with a faster cadence when you have a short stride because you’re running more efficiently.
Although 180 spm isn’t the target, per se, it’s a good reference point to keep in mind as you work on your stride length and cadence.
So Is Cadence Important When Running?
As it turns out, cadence is probably less important than originally thought. We mentioned that a cadence of 180 spm became the benchmark for practices and drills after the 1984 Olympics.
But recent studies have shown that, while increasing your cadence reduces impact and injury risk, it doesn’t have to be 180 spm. And focusing on your cadence to the exclusion of other factors may result in other issues.
Sports Physiologist and professional runner Geoffrey Burns, Ph.D., confirmed this in 2016 when he studied the top 25 finishers in Spain’s 100K Alcazares race. Burns found that the cadence of the runners varied widely and depended on weight and height.
He analyzed the cadence of the top finishers and found their cadences ranged between 155 and 203 spm. The runners with the highest and lowest cadences finished only a few minutes apart. This proved that having a faster cadence doesn’t make you a faster, better runner.
Remember that just because cadence doesn’t necessarily define a runner’s success, there are some vital benefits of tracking and working on your cadence.
Reduced Injury Risk
Your running cadence is a simple way to improve your running form. When you love running as much as we do, there’s no way you’d want to lose a minute of running time due to injuries. Your cadence is a proactive way to avoid injuries.
When you take quick, short steps, your movements are more efficient. This balanced stride reduces the impact placed on your hips, knees, and other joints.
Clinical exercise physiologist and experienced strength coach Jack McNamara has emphasized that there’s an increase in performance when running with an efficient cadence. He has stated that running with a faster cadence leads to an improved running economy.
Your running economy is a calculation of how efficiently our bodies use oxygen when running at a certain pace. When you run with an efficient running technique, you move more economically, resulting in a faster pace with more ease.
Feedback on Technique
As we fatigue, our running technique starts slipping. But as we’re running, we don’t notice these changes as our body adapts to them to maintain our pace. When you track your cadence, you’ll notice when your technique changes, allowing you insight into the areas you should put more work into to improve your technique and efficiency.
Other Important Running Metrics
You should be checking in on your running cadence occasionally, using it as an indicator of where you’re at rather than a target to aim for. But you should track many other important running metrics to optimize your running.
Some of the top metrics to monitor include the following:
Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE)
While this isn’t a metric in the typical sense (your GPS watch can’t tell you this), your RPE is an important metric to consider. As the name suggests, it’s the rate of exertion as you perceive it. This number is entirely personal and is impacted by things like your sleep, nutrition, hydration, and how tired you are. To monitor this metric, all you need to do is check in with your body.
Here’s a quick overview of how to measure your RPE:
|RPE||HR %||Talk Level||Maintain Pace Duration||Ideal Race|
|Very Easy||1 – 2||< 60||Normal||Indefinite||N/A – warm-up|
|Easy||3 – 4||60 – 70||3 – 6 word sentences||2 – 5+ hours||Ultramarathon, marathon|
|Hard||5 – 6||70 – 80||2 – 3 word bursts||30 minutes – 2 hours||10k – half marathon|
|Very Hard||7 – 8||80 – 90||1 – 2 words between gasps||8 – 30 minutes||5k or less|
|Maximum||9 – 10||90 – 100||Hard to say 1 word||5 minutes or less||1 mile|
As you get fitter, you can run faster with less effort. Measuring this effort with your cadence may leave you feeling disappointed. Focusing on a metric like RPE lets you see and feel your progress.
Your VO2 max is the measurement of how much oxygen your blood can transport to your muscles and organs while placing it under strain (like running). The higher your VO2 max, the better you can perform because your body can optimize oxygen consumption.
VO2 max is expressed as a value in ml/kg/min – how many ml of oxygen your body requires per kilogram of body weight per minute of effort. You can increase your VO2 max in several ways, allowing you to run faster for longer.
Knowing your VO2 max tells you where your fitness level is and where you have room for improvement. It’s also a great way to track your progress as you move through your training block.
Your speed is an excellent indicator of your fitness and progress from one point to another. We’ve found tracking speed progress to be great for motivation. Remember to compare apples with apples – don’t expect to run faster up a hill than on a flat route. Increasing your speed helps you qualify for races while informing your goals.
See more: our detailed guide to running faster
Heart Rate Zone Training
Training within different heart rate zones allows you to engage the various aspects of your physiology. Your training plan should include workouts within the different heart rate zones. This will improve your overall performance, reduce your risk of injury, and keep things interesting for you.
You don’t always need to run fast when training for a race. In fact, it’s been found that running slow helps you run fast. Including heart rate zone training and tracking your heart rate can be incredibly informative.
How To Measure Your Cadence
Cadence is typically the first thing to slip when you get tired on long or fast runs. Knowing your normal cadence allows you to monitor it during your runs. Most GPS watches calculate your cadence for you, but if you don’t run with a GPS watch or yours doesn’t measure cadence, there are two main ways to work it out:
Count and Time
On your next run, start a stopwatch or timer and count the number of times your right foot hits the ground in 10 seconds. Take that number and double it to get your total footfalls in 10 seconds. Then, multiply that by 6 to get your steps per minute. This is your cadence.
Use a Metronome App
Metronome apps are a great way to find and maintain a specific cadence. Start your metronome app at 75 beats per minute and keep increasing it until you find your right foot is hitting the ground in time with the metronome. If this is at 86 bpm, double this number to get your cadence, i.e., 172 spm.
For most runners, a dedicated running app like Strava or Garmin Connect will suffice:
4 Ways to Increase Your Cadence
We’ve said it several times, but we’ll say it again: there’s no one-size-fits-all when looking at optimal running cadence. But there is a perfect cadence for your body. Various factors such as weight, height, fitness level, and hip mobility play a role in your cadence.
Slow and steady is the best approach if you’d like to increase your cadence. We have 4 simple solutions to improve your cadence.
Run to the Beat
If you’ve ever watched a movie involving marines or soldiers, you’ll have seen them running while chanting or singing. As they chant, they run or walk to the beat. This is called running to the beat and allows you to maintain a constant cadence.
This method keeps you moving at the same spm while also distracting you with great tunes. You can easily check the bpm of songs using a website like GetSongBPM. You can create a playlist of songs with the BPM you need to guide your cadence.
If your spm requirement is 176, you can find songs with a BPM of 176 or 88 to keep you on track. If that seems like too much effort, you can also search Google for “running songs at x bpm.” This will return playlists other runners have made, and you can pick your favorites.
Increase in 5% Increments
Our bodies are amazing things capable of unbelievable change. But this doesn’t mean you should try going from 150 spm to 180 spm in one go. This will likely lead to injuries and strains. Rather increase your cadence by 5% increments.
If your current cadence is 150 spm, work on maintaining a cadence of 157 comfortably for 3 to 5 miles before you add another 5%. Increase your cadence slowly while maintaining good form.
Try the Baseline Technique
This technique is a quick and easy way to improve your running cadence. Start by working out your baseline (starting) cadence. Head out for a run as you normally would – don’t think about how you’re running; keep everything as usual.
Once you’ve worked out your baseline, run for 3 minutes at this cadence, then switch to 1 minute at a slightly faster cadence. Repeat these intervals throughout your run. If you aren’t sure whether you’re running with a faster cadence, use a metronome and the 5% increment method.
Set the metronome to 5% above your baseline. When running at your baseline, don’t use the metronome. Five seconds before switching to the 1-minute interval, start the metronome to start transitioning to the faster cadence rate.
Use the Treadmill Trick
This trick may seem really simple (which it is), but it works! Run on the treadmill for 2 to 3 miles, then head out onto the road straight afterward for a mile or so. You’ll find that your cadence will naturally be faster.
This happens because the treadmill belt helps improve your leg turnover, shortening your stride, and increasing your cadence.
Key Takeaways on Running Cadence
- Generally, a shorter stride and faster cadence improve running economy and reduce the risk of injury.
- Although many coaches and professionals swear by a cadence of 180 spm, this isn’t necessarily the optimal running cadence for you.
- Don’t focus too much on cadence as the primary metric. Look at your RPE, VO2 max, speed, and heart rate zone training metrics for a more holistic view of your fitness.
- Different runs have different cadences. If you’re running up a hill, your stride length will be short and choppy, whereas, on downhills, you will stride out with a slower cadence.
Higher Cadence Can Lead to Better Performance
As you can see, there is no right or wrong answer when looking at a good running cadence and how many steps per minute is best. So many factors influence your unique cadence that it would be impossible to give a pinpoint answer.
However, what we do know is that most professional and elite athletes have a faster cadence. This may be a fluke, but probably not.
Improving your cadence may be just what you need to push you to the next level.