woman running outdoors

Training Tip: Cadence

Running cadence (also known as stride rate) refers to the number of steps per minute (spm) you take as you run.

In other words, it’s the speed at which your legs turn over as you are running.

For years the number 180 has been thrown around as the "ideal" cadence. This number stems from a study done by Jack Daniels during the 1984 Olympics where he found that out of all of the elite distance runners he studied only one had a cadence under 180spm. This eventually evolved to people saying ALL runners should be at 180spm.

While cadence is often used as a performance metric, the latest studies suggest that perhaps we have been too focused on hitting a specific target running cadence.

Our running cadence is affected by many different factors such as:

  • body composition
  • running style
  • type of workout being done (Different types of runs have different running cadences)

Is a Fast Running Cadence Better?

If the 180spm is more of a rough guideline than a benchmark, is there really any benefit to running with a quicker cadence? Yes, and it is all about your stride length. Taking shorter, faster steps makes you a more efficient runner and reduces the impact on your joints!

Cadence doesn’t define your success as a runner, but there are some important benefits to tracking and increasing your cadence:

  • Injury Prevention: Running cadence is an attainable way to improve your running form. The short, quick steps of running cadence make movement efficient while minimizing injury as a more balanced stride reduces the impact on your knees and hips.
  • Improved Performance: Once we have learned to run at a faster cadence this can lead to an improvement in our running economy. Running economy is a measure of how efficiently we utilize oxygen at a certain pace. The more efficient our running technique is, the more economically we can run, which results in faster times.
  • Feedback on Running Technique - As we tire our running technique often starts to deteriorate, but most of the time we don’t notice the changes because our body adapts in an attempt to maintain our pace naturally. If you’re keeping track of your cadence, you will notice this change more quickly, giving you (or your coach) insight on areas you need to work on to prevent it from happening.

How to Improve Your Cadence

There is not necessarily a one-size-fits-all optimal running cadence, but there is an ideal cadence for you personally.

  • Find your current cadence (you can check the stats on your running watch) and then add 5 to 10 percent. For example, if your current cadence is 160spm, your goal would now be 168spm to 176spm.
  • Start by increasing your cadence on easy runs and then increase for speedwork and other workouts.
  • Pretend you are running in hot lava to promote a faster turnover!
  • Once you have comfortably run your new (and improved!) cadence for a 5K run or race, you can confidently add another five percent to your spm and repeat the process.

Each runner has a cadence that is best for them. By recording your current cadence and using a few simple cues around your stride length and form, you can increase your cadence to be a more efficient and faster runner.

Is cadence something you have focused on in the past? What are some techniques that helped you?

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