Finding Your Perfect Run Cadence

author : Coach AJ
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By Coach AJ

Finding your proper run cadence is a common topic among triathletes. Running off the bike means running on tired legs so every bit of efficiency counts. Using the right cadence means athletes can go faster and put less strain on their aerobic and skeletal system.

As a general guideline athletes should look for a cadence of 90 strikes per foot per minute, or 180 total foot strikes. How I like to count this is to pick one leg and count my foot strikes for 30 seconds. I want 45 foot strikes in that 30 second period. If I double that for both feet I get 90, then when I double that to reach one minute I get 180. There is no magic number for cadence, but 90 is really the minimum you want to shoot for. Elite marathoners often have a cadence of 96, but for triathletes 90 is a great number to shoot for.

By upping your cadence you achieve several objectives. First, you lower the damage done to your muscles. By being light and quick on your feet you minimize the impact as you hit the concrete. Additionally, to achieve a cadence of 90 you have to have good form, which will give you extra speed with no extra effort. Good form is a whole topic unto itself, so I won’t go into details, but to achieve a high cadence you need have a good forward lean and place your foot under your hips rather than out in front. This increases your cadence and increases your speed without needing extra effort. In the end this can lead to faster paces and more importantly the same pace with a lower heart rate. Lower heart rates mean better digestion of calories so your nutrition is more likely to agree with you.

As discussed earlier, there is a tremendous amount of damage done to joints and muscles when you have a low running cadence. The longer your foot is on the ground, the more time the forces against you have to act. Those forces not only force your body to overcome them, they can cause all sorts of issues moving up the chain. Maybe your ankle dives in, which can cause the knee to also cave in, which then leads to the hips compensating and so on. It also generates much more impact which breaks down muscles and puts a tremendous amount of strain on the joints.

The best way to improve your cadence is to work on form and cadence together. As I wrote earlier, form and cadence go hand in hand. If you can find a run coach in your area that will work on your form, that is best; or have someone record your running form and break it down. There are many articles written about form and even entire books. The basics are having your foot strike the ground under your hips, having good posture and taking shorter, faster strides. Work on your form early in a run session, check your form and cadence throughout your run and designate specific sessions for form/cadence only. Check your cadence late in any run, especially your long run, as form and cadence tend to fall away as your body gets tired. Increasing your cadence takes time. You’ll have to work for several weeks to see real results so don’t get discouraged early.

From decreasing your aerobic needs and lowering the impact on your joints by increasing your run cadence will only lead to good things. Every athlete can benefit from a quick cadence no matter if they are an Olympic distance racer or Ironman veteran. Take the time to work on your cadence and you will see many benefits.

AJ Johnson's varied background spans coaching, racing triathlon professionally, freelance writing and most recently being the editor of TRI and ROAD Magazines. At TrainingPeaks, AJ helps coaches and athletes as an Education Specialist. Naturally, he also writes for the newsletter, blog and other outlets. He is also a triathlon coach for D3 Multisport. You can reach him at - See more here.


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date: August 5, 2013

Coach AJ

USAT Level 1 Coach
"My coaching philosophy can be summed up in two words: listening and balance. By combining these two elements I feel I can help each athlete achieve their full potential."

avatarCoach AJ

USAT Level 1 Coach
"My coaching philosophy can be summed up in two words: listening and balance. By combining these two elements I feel I can help each athlete achieve their full potential."

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