Running Cadence-worth understanding it and working to improve it.


Monitoring running cadence for the right reasons is one powerful instrument in your journey to becoming a better runner. It implies that a higher cadence implies lower risk of injury and better energy efficiency.

As a run progresses, if our breathing becomes laboured or our legs start to feel heavy, staying focused on form becomes increasingly difficult. We get distracted, fall into bad habits instead of trying to adapt our movements to make the run feel better and more efficient.

Subtle increases in step rate can substantially reduce the loading to the hip and knee joints during running and may prove beneficial in the prevention and treatment of common running-related injuries.

Cadence is one of 2 factors that make up a runners speed, the other is stride length.

To run at a faster speed, the goal is to increase your cadence, pulling your foot from the ground quicker.

Keeping an eye on your running cadence has many benefits:
*Decreases over-striding
*Improved running efficiency
*Reduced risk of injury
*Reduced muscle damage in training and enhanced recovery

Running cadence is leg turnover and defined as the total number of steps you take per minute. One easy way to measure your running cadence is to count the times your left foot hits the ground in 60 seconds, then double it for both feet. There isn’t a magic cadence number for everyone but an ideal range for you personally.
Several unique factors such as height, hip mobility, and level of overall fitness will all play a role.

Cadence and Form

The shorter your stride length, the quicker your stride rate, the faster and better you run. If you have a low cadence, you most likely have a long stride which makes for a choppy and more bouncy run. The more bouncy and over striding you are in your gait, the more susceptible you are to injury.

When you shorten your stride you will also change the position of where your foot lands beneath you. The optimal placement of your foot is beneath your hips which is where your foot will automatically land if you take the necessary steps to increase your cadence and shorten your stride length. This is the point of your center of gravity and where the least amount of impact from a heel strike will occur from its braking effect.

Your turnover will increase which will propel you forward and will waste less energy since you will now be moving forward and back not up and down.

The above photo shows a slight forward lean in the body.
Ensuring this slight lean comes from your ankles and not from the waist keeps your body in alignment.
If you lean from the ankles, your hips will move forward allowing gravity to do some of your work and save you energy.

Notice, even though they have a high knee lift, they actually place their foot down under their body with a bent knee – not out in front with a straight leg.

How to Improve Your Cadence

Find your current cadence and then increase by 5% gradually as a guide. Never change too much too soon, that goes for any variable of your running form. Also, dont think about it too much.
Start by increasing your cadence for only one to two runs per week or for short periods during each run.

Universally, higher numbers are always something to strive for. Increases in step frequency of 5% or even 7.5% above preferred regardless of footstrike pattern may also lower peak Achilles tendon stress and strain. ITBS, medial tibial stress syndrome can also benefit from it. It will always be about assessing the actual individual, it cant ever be just about a recipe and getting everyone to aim for the same number, we are all very very different.

~Running to a beat is a very effective way to keep technique fresh and cadence quick and consistent, especially when you feel concentration is lapsing.
The optimal running beat is three beats every second and with each beat equating to a step, that’s 180 steps per minute.

Step rate changes are very much dependent on what your starting point is. You wont want the increase to be too much of a challenge in terms of effort.

Although 180 steps per minute (SPM) has been cited as being the ideal cadence, if you have a long stride currently it may feel much too fast and cadence is highly individual, your body knows what is optimal. Runners should not necessarily manipulate their cadence to run 180 spm but rather monitor cadence as their running progresses.

Height and speed affect an individual’s cadence. Taller runners have lower step frequency than shorter runners. And also when you pick up the pace, cadence increases.

The ability to master running cadence is not difficult but dont let it govern everything.

Search for music that is 170bpm or even 165bpm if you are struggling and build gradually. There is an array of playlists and albums to choose from.
The beat stops us from staying too long on the ground and moves us onto the next step without having to concentrate too much. Your running is going to feel less effort, more relaxed and lighter when running to the beat.

~Another option is a portable metronome or metronome app on your phone.

~Running watches records live running cadence. They record your entire run with various paces, ascents and descents.

It is a case where a little understanding goes a long way so it is worth understanding it and working to improve it. It will improve your running form and efficiency, speed and help make running effortless and so much more enjoyable

Be patient and use it wisely.

Michelle Greaney

Athletics Ireland Endurance Coach

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s