Running Cadence 101: How To Find Your Perfect Step

What if I told you you could reduce your risk of injury and become a faster runner? The secret is paying more attention to your running cadence than you think you need to. By fine-tuning this key aspect of your running form, you can transform your running for the better.

This article will answer all the questions you have around:

  • What is running cadence?
  • What’s a “good” running cadence to strive for?
  • Tips to improve your running cadence to
  • How an improved running cadence will decrease your risk of injury

All this and much, much more.

What is running cadence?

A male and a female runner on a bridge overlooking the water with high running cadence.

Running cadence is also known as stride rate.

A running cadence is the number of steps you take every 60 seconds when running.

You, me, and your running arch nemesis all have different cadences.

There are many factors that impact your running cadence from your height (taller runners have a slower stride rate than shorter runners), experience (elite runners may have slower cadence than beginner runners), and weight.

Without paying much attention to how cadence influences running posture, beginner runners often have a cadence between 150 and 170 steps per minute (you may see this referred to as SPM).

Elite runners usually run closer to between 180 and 200 steps per minute.

Your running cadence increases the faster you run. If you’re trying to cover the same distance in less time – either your stride width, also known as your gait, or your stride rate (cadence) will need to increase to compensate.

But, it may be worth aiming for 180 steps per minute even if you’re running at a slow running pace – here’s why.

What is a good cadence for running?

Let’s start with an objective fact: good cadence is subjective. It’s based on all the factors above like height, weight, and other biomechanics.

There is no one-size-fits all good running cadence.

If you find yourself getting injured frequently with running injuries like runner’s knee or shin splints, your running cadence might have something to do with it.

If a run coach is going to make a standard recommendation to a runner, typically a cadence of anywhere between 170-180 is recommended for a majority runners.

One study analyzed the cadence of 20 elite runners during a world championship race using wrist-worn accelerometers. Results found an average cadence of 182 SPM, with cadence remaining consistent throughout the race. This means trained elite runners ensure their cadence does not decrease even as fatigue increases later in the race.

It’s important to emphasize that cadences do vary depending on the athlete, even at the elite level. For example, the British Olympian Sir Mo Farah has an incredibly long stride length and a cadence of around 190 steps per minute.

His former teammate at Nike, Galen Rupp, has a cadence of 187 steps per minute.

Eliud Kipchoge’s cadence was an average of 186 SPM when he broke the world record at the Berlin Marathon.

These runners have adapted and trained with their ideal cadence to their body architecture.

Even if you’re not striving to go professional (most of us are not), adopting a higher cadence can prevent over-striding, reduce your risk of injury, and will improve your running form and posture for more efficient running performance.

Related: Which type of strength training improves running efficiency most?

Why should you increase your running cadence?

The idea of changing your running cadence may feel weird at first – but there are many benefits of increasing your steps per minute, such as:

  • Increasing your cadence will support injury prevention. A higher cadence lessens the impact each of your knees absorb during your run. This means the impact force of running will be distributed more evenly through the body.Additionally, a higher step rate means that if your foot position tends to over stride – meaning, your foot lands in front of your knee, a quicker turnover will move your foot strike position to be closer underneath your flexed knee.
  • A higher running cadence will promote running faster with less effort. This is called running economy. The more steps you take in succession, the faster you run. In turn, this may also improve your stamina and endurance. If each leg will be responsible for absorbing and generating less energy, this may support better endurance.
  • Increasing stride frequency may improve your running mechanics. Quicker cadences reduce vertical oscillation (time spent in the air), improve your center of gravity, and will be less taxing on the body. 

These are just a handful of the benefits of adopting a quicker cadence.

You may even experience mild foot pain the day after your run. This is only because you’re taking more steps than usual. But over time, this will reduce as your joints, bones, tendons, and muscles get used to your new cadence.

A good way to practice improving your cadence is with strides – add these to the end of your easy runs and before interval training to practice target cadence while running fast.

We have more tips on how to improve your running cadence later in this blog post.

How stride length can affect your cadence 

Stride length is the total distance covered between two steps.

Every runner has a unique stride – it’s why some runners look as if they’re floating effortlessly through the air, and others as if they’re fighting gravity.

If you have a long stride length, you can cover more distance per step, which will often result in a low cadence.

The opposite is also true: those with a shorter stride length often adopt a quicker cadence. 

No stride length (short vs long) is better than the other, so long as you’re running with a focus on proper running form and posture.

However, if you’re overstriding (this typically occurs with longer strides when your foot lands beyond your center of gravity), then you’re more likely to land on your heels (this is known as heel striking).

Heel striking increases the force sent through your body and also encourages poor running form. Instead, a faster cadence reduces contact time and encourages midfoot foot landing.

In most cases, adopting a quicker cadence will improve your running form and mechanics.

To find your stride length, and, more importantly, to see if you’re overstriding, film yourself running or get feedback from a professional like a running coach.

How to calculate your running cadence 

To calculate your running cadence, count the number of times your left foot hits the ground in a 60-second interval and multiply your result by 2. That’s your running cadence or steps per minute (SPM).

When calculating your cadence, it’s recommended to do so on a quiet road or even a track. Don’t try it during your next half marathon.

And if you don’t want to count, you can invest in a cadence sensor or watch (like a COROS or Garmin) that will do the counting for you.

A female runner going up an incline where runners can expect to increase their running cadence.

How does your cadence change on inclines and declines?

During a single run, your cadence will change depending on numerous factors (think, fatigue). But another major factor is whether you’re running uphill or downhill.

If you’re running uphill, your cadence will be slower than running on the flat terrain.

Similarly, when running downhill, your cadence will be faster than on flat terrain or when running uphill. 

If you’re an avid trail runner, cadence is important to pay attention to when it comes to focusing on technique for gradient. The steeper the gradient, the slower your cadence on the uphill, and the faster your cadence on the downhill. 

How do I improve my running cadence?

If your running cadence is not yet between 170-180 SPM, don’t worry.

You can improve your cadence over time by practicing some basic drills.

Here are a few of the best running drills to improve your running cadence:

  • Perform short distance strides with a focus on running a high cadence
  • Run using a metronome app (these are now available on multiple apps)
  • Run to a beat with targeted BPM (music)
  • Focus on gradually increase your cadence
  • Focus on other aspects of your technique 

We’ll break each of these methods/drills in more detail below.

Strides for Running Cadence

Strides are bouts of fast running but not sprints — designed to improve your running form mechanics and running economy. Typically, you’ll do these at the end of an easy run to inject a little running speed into your training, while reinforcing and practicing proper running technique.

You can also include strides before a hard run or workout to warm up appropriately.

To perform strides, slowly accelerate and increase your speed until you’re running fast, but not sprinting.

Then decelerate and go again after a short break. For most runners, this will be your 5km pace, with each stride no more than 30 seconds in duration. 

For those training indoors, you can also perform these on a treadmill. 

When running your strides, over-exaggerate your running mechanics. Run at an optimal cadence (170-180 SPM), avoid overstriding, and reinforce proper posture and arm drive (run as if you’re being held up by a piece of string).

Use a metronome 

A metronome makes an audible clicking noise at a set interval. You can set this to 170-180 beats per minute (BPM). Run to the metronome, with your left foot hitting the floor on the beat and the right foot following suit.

Run to a beat with targeted BPM (music)

If you want to run to the correct beat but want a little more excitement in your ears, you can find music with a beat of 170-180 BPM.

Play this music and run to the beat, matching your stride to the BPM. If you do run to a beat, it’s a good idea to make a playlist that contains songs with the same BPM, not differing ones to prevent you from adopting different cadences.

It takes a little practice, but it adds a little more life to your running vs using a metronome. But use whatever feels best for you!

Gradually increase your cadence

It takes time to improve your running mechanics, and that includes trying to run at a faster cadence. Remain patient, keep practicing, and your cadence will improve.

Trying to increase your cadence too suddenly, i.e., trying to run every run at a cadence that is 10-20 steps faster than your current rate, will only cause frustration, and in some cases, some very sore feet!

In this instance, slow and steady wins the cadence race! 

Focus on other aspects of your technique 

To improve your running cadence, you, well, need to improve your cadence… it’s not rocket science.

But as you now know, it takes time to improve. In the meantime, you can also focus on other areas of your running form and technique to improve, which, in turn, will make you a faster and more efficient runner!

For example, you can focus on practicing proper arm swing technique (driving your arms forward) and reinforcing proper posture (run loose and like you’re dangling from a piece of string, but with a slight forward lean). 

Key learnings 

You don’t need to be an elite runner to care about running cadence. In fact, you should pay attention to it as a core part of your running form.

If your current cadence is less than 170, then spending the time to improve your stride rate will make you a faster and more efficient runner. You’re also less likely to become injured.

Key takeaways:

  • Aim for a cadence anywhere between 170-180 SPM
  • Add strides & run with a metronome to increase your cadence
  • Focus on other aspects of your technique too

FAQs

Is 160 cadence too slow?

A cadence of 160 indicates that you might be overstriding. Increase your cadence to improve your running form and reduce your risk of injury.

Is a higher or lower cadence better?

Typically, a faster cadence is better for most runners. When running, you should aim for a minimum cadence of 170-180 steps per minute.

What does cadence mean in running?

Cadence is how many times your feet (both left and right) make contact with the ground every 60 seconds.

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