Let’s talk running cadence. Whether your a distance runner or you just go for a mile or two, and whether you’re a competitive athlete or just a recreational runner, your cadence matters.
Simply put, running cadence is just your step rate—the number of times your feet hit the ground in a given time interval.
Cadence in running is typically measured in steps per minute. Average recreational runners typically have a cadence of around 150-170, while elite athletes can be anymore from 180-200.
Where should your running cadence be?
Well, it depends. First, your height will play a big part in how fast you can turn your feet over. A shorter runner might not have a hard time turning their feet over quickly, but an athlete with long legs will find it difficult to maintain a cadence of 180 or more.
Running at a faster cadence will help improve your running. It’s as simple as that. In this article, we’re going to dive into why cadence is important, and then focus on how to improve your step rate to achieve optimal cadence.
If improving your running cadence is low on your list of priorities, that’s probably because you don’t understand how important running at a higher cadence is. So let’s start there.
Ultimately, your running cadence illustrates how “heavy” your steps are. From a biomechanics perspective, the slower your cadence, the more work you’re asking your body to do with each step. Think about it. If you’re on the ground for longer in between steps, you are requiring your body to shock absorb a lot more than if you were running at a higher cadence.
The quicker your stride rate, the “lighter” your stride. By reducing your ground contact time, you are minimizing the amount of work your body needs to do for each foot strike, thereby reducing your risk of running injuries over time.
Also, note that working on your cadence does not negate the importance of strength training. In fact, your strength training will largely contribute to proper run form, which makes improving your cadence that much easier.
Absolutely not. Your run speed is a combination of stride length and the number of steps you take in a minute, or whatever given time interval you prefer to measure with.
So, to improve your cadence, avoid overstriding. A longer stride is not our focus here; we’re aiming only for a higher cadence.
What this means is that in order to improve your cadence, you just need to shorten your stride length. We can do that with a simple pulling drill.
Running drills are usually a solid way to work on a particular goal, and cadence-based goals are no exception.
In fact, this pulling drill will help you with two things. First, it’s going to make your running more efficient. This means you will need less energy to run more correctly. Who wouldn’t want that?! And second, it is going to shorten your stride length by default.
To do this, you want to find the halfway point between a high knee and a butt kick. Once you’ve nailed down this motion, practice 20 pulls on the right, 20 pulls on the left, and then 20 pulls alternating.
While you certainly don’t need a running coach to do this drill, I’ve included a video below to fully demonstrate this drill.
This drill will naturally require improved running form and running technique. It requires your hips to face straight forward, which engages your glutes and hamstrings. And as a result of this improved running form, you will be able to bounce off of the ground more easily, and take more steps per minute (SPM).
And you can incorporate this drill in your warm up, your cool down, or even during your run as a sort of reset.
And if it’s not part of your warm up or cool down, be sure you don’t skip them! The cadence work and injury prevention will only be effective if you are properly taking care of your body.
Let’s be clear: not every run needs to be fully focused on your running cadence. Trust me, I’ve tried that. Thinking about my cadence became all-consuming and it not only took the joy out of running for me, but it also didn’t work.
Instead, once you get going on a run, count how many steps you take in one minute. This can be the first minute of your run after you’ve done your warm up, or a different minute also near the beginning of your run. Take a note of how many steps you took in that minute.
Then, every 7-10 minutes on your run, try to match how many steps you took in that original timed minute. I like to use a metronome app on my phone to help keep my SPM on track, that way all I have to do is follow the metronome to be sure I’m sticking with that original cadence.
As a jumping off point, 160 SPM (80 per leg) is a good starting point for me, but there is no right or wrong here.
When trying to keep up with that metronome, utilize the pulling technique from the drill above.
From there, add 2 to your SPM every week. So, if you used 160 SPM as your metronome tempo one week, set it to 162 SPM the next week.
And this can be done on a treadmill or outdoors. If you’re on the treadmill, adjust your speed accordingly, but still use a metronome if you can.
And remember, this is only going on every 7-10 minutes of your run, for only one minute.
This way, your cadence is work is targeted and focused. Your overall goal, running at your ideal cadence, is essentially being broken down into much smaller, more manageable goals that will yield big results over time. These one-minute efforts are bite-sized.
There you have it! Hopefully you now understand why improving your running cadence is so important. I have actually found that my cadence work has greatly reduced the pain from a hip injury I’ve been dealing with!
Try out the pulling drill and the metronome cadence work, make it regular, and enjoy the improvements! Make your cadence a priority. It’ll impact everything from your recovery runs to race day.