Most runners have heard of cadence (the number of steps you take in a minute), and will have an idea that 180 is what they should be aiming for. This originates from coach Jack Daniels’ research into elite runners, and has been popularised over time. But are we worrying unnecessarily if we don’t fit the perfect criteria?
Why focus on cadence?
Cadence is probably the easiest metric to measure and control, especially if you have a running watch, which is one reason why it gets so much attention. It’s thought that optimising cadence can not only speed us up (running speed is the product of cadence (stride frequency) and stride length. Increase your stride frequency (cadence) and/or your stride length and you run faster), but also can improve form and change landing to mid foot, which in turn decreases injury risk. A recent study, published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, found that slight increases in stride cadence led to significant reductions in loading on the knee and hip joints, which, they hypothesise, might help prevent some of the most prevalent running injuries.
However, the often quoted 180 spm was an average cadence, so at times, these elite runners will have been running at a faster or slower cadence, rather than a metronomic 180. Your cadence will (and should) vary over time depending on a number of factors – what pace are you running at? At marathon pace, your cadence should be slower than when racing a 5k. Cadence also varies with leg length, height and terrain – trickier terrain like rough trails results in a higher cadence as you will be more stable, for example.
And some runners are just outliers – they don’t fit the formula. Take the famous Jim Walmsley, who despite beautiful form, ran 12 seconds slower than the world record for 100k with an average cadence of 161! https://www.strava.com/activities/4670542009/overview. It’d take a brave coach to mess with that! Some sources also quote Kipchoge as running his record-shattering marathons at cadences that were almost always between 190 and 200 steps per minute (spm), well over the recommended 180 spm. Again, I’m not sure I’d be trying to changing his cadence to fit a formula.
So what does this mean for us?
We often get stuck into a habit, such as cadence, that our body is used to and has become efficient at, but may not be optimum, so this may be worth investigating if you want to try something new. If your cadence is lower than 180, speeding up foot turnover may speed you up – to a point. (Of course, it may actually be detrimental if it decreases your stride length or if your cadence is already high, so don’t just assume more is better). Whilst I’m certainly not encouraging you to aim for a “magic” number, it is worth experimenting and getting to know yourself better. Your your task this week, then is to
– Note your current cadence (either by counting foot fall for 30s and multiplying by 2, or by using your watch)
– Play with increasing your cadence on one of your easy runs. Does increasing your cadence speed you up? Make your run easier? Improve your form? If so, focus on practising it. If not, put it out of your mind. There may be easier wins.
How to increase your cadence:
There are a number of ways to increase cadence:
– Use high beat music
– Use a metronome app
– Swing your arms faster to move your feet faster (see resources below)
– Simply repeat “fast feet” to yourself over and over again whilst running, and observe what happens.
How do you feel? Do you speed up? Do you feel comfortable, or do your feet pitter patter (a sign you may have shortened your stride length too much?). Make a note of this self experiment and let us know how it goes. Have you worked on cadence before? Did it make a difference? Share your thoughts on this topic with us below.
Some useful resources:
Increasing cadence through arm movement: Form video 2 https://www.facebook.com/groups/mhrunnersclub/permalink/936237400507241/
Should I increase my cadence: Q&A session with Martin on 1st April, Question 1 https://www.facebook.com/groups/mhrunnersclub/permalink/923606095103705/
Great article on why we may be overthinking cadence:
If you decide you want to increase cadence, McMillan website has a good workout to use to help you: https://www.mcmillanrunning.com/cadence/
I hope that you can take something away from this blog. I would love to hear your thoughts and I’ve set up a very supportive free Facebook Community where like-minded people can share their experiences of life and exercising. Please feel free to join and invite others you know who may be interested.
I also have a Facebook Club for runners where I post two weekly workout videos, host a live weekly Ask The Coach question and answer session plus a monthly live webinar on a host of running related topics. This is ideal for those who use free plans but want to have access to a coach and ongoing information. You can find more information and join here.
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