Increasing Your Cadence – A Guide For Runners

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Is 180 the magic number?

At its core, running is about repetitive movement; provided you put one foot in front of the other repeatedly, and generally propel yourself in a forward motion, you run.

You are a runner.

However, it can be a bit misleading to think that putting “one foot in front of the other” is where running begins and ends. How you take those steps, and more importantly, how many steps you take, can dictate a lot about your success as a runner, from your speed all the way up to your propensity for injury.

In running parlance, a runner's cadence refers to the number of steps or strides the runner takes over a given period of time, usually measured in steps or strides per minute. Understanding the importance of your cadence can help pave the way to you being able to put in mile after mile, year after year, for the long haul.

When you begin researching more about cadence, you'll likely find the number 180. This value refers to the number of steps per minute most runners should aim to take, and this belief is so strongly held in the running community that it's something that has become passed down, from generation to generation, without question. The idea here is that as long as runners take 180 steps per minute, they will be far less likely to overstride and that by not overstriding, runners will reduce their injury likelihood (particularly for shin splints) and will thus be able to run injury-free.

The magic 180 value dates back to the 1984 Olympics and a study that iconic running coach Jack Daniels conducted. In his study, Daniels noticed that of his small sample size (46), only one elite runner had a cadence with a value of lower than 180 spm. Since this original study, Daniels' research has been misinterpreted and misquoted, propelling the belief that 180 should be the magic number for all runners. While there isn't necessarily a hard-and-fast magic number that all runners should strive to hit in their cadences, more likely than not, most runners could benefit from upping their cadence.

More recent research, post-Daniels, show that cadences that are 160 spm or lower typically indicate that the runners are overstriding and thus are increasing their propensity for common runner maladies like shin splints. Many of us probably don't think much about how many steps we take when we run, but once you become cognizant of your cadence, you can make some improvements to get your value higher and have a higher turnover.

Here are some ideas about how you can up your cadence:

  • Get your starting value. Before you make any changes to your stride, see where you're starting from. Go for a run and count how many times one foot hits the pavement for 30 seconds. After you find that value, double it (to find the number your foot hits the ground in 60 seconds). Once you have this new value, double it again to account for how many times both feet hit the pavement in 60 seconds. Finding your base value is critical because you can't change anything if you don't know where you stand in the first place.

  • And then assess and re-assess regularly. There are many tools available that can help you track your cadence so you don't have to rely on “manually” counting your steps on the run. A metronome or a GPS-enabled watch that comes with an accelerometer will measure your cadence on each run, and you'll also get the bonus of other data points when you use these pieces of technology on your runs. Having the data available to you will also show you trends over time about your cadence on your runs – how it varies on runs of varying speeds (general aerobic, tempos, speedwork, and the like) and on runs of varying terrains (roads versus trails) – and you'll be able to identify the trends over time and if you are progressing.

  • Music can help. Some folks find that listening to music or even podcasts can help them increase their cadence. You may find that you subconsciously move your feet to the beat and rhythm of the music, which can result in a higher-than-usual turnover and cadence. A quick online search will yield several websites that feature songs indexed by their beats per minute to correspond with your desired steps per minute. Some sites still regard 180 as the gold standard, though, so do your research.

  • Listen to an expert – your coach. Coaches have the technical knowledge and experience to be able to guide you on ways to increase your specific cadence, which will likely differ from that of another runner. Our cadence can be determined by many of our physical characteristics, like our height, stride length, and speed, and working one-on-one with a coach will be helpful because as you'll surely learn, you are effectively an experiment of one. Knowing your particular circumstances, then, a coach can also give you targeted workouts to help you increase your cadence and become more cognizant of it.

  • Think of progress as a long-term goal. Finally, remember that increasing your cadence can be a long process. Consider increasing your cadence slowly, by only 5% initially. When you are actively trying to increase your cadence, you may find that your running “feels” different, too. Trust the process – just like with anything else related to running.

How many steps we take in each minute of running can dictate our ability to continue to run injury-free, so while running is a fairly straightforward activity – one step in front of the other, over and over again – it'll behoove us as runners to learn more about, and monitor, our cadence over time.

Bio: Dan Chabert Writing from Copenhagen, Denmark, Dan is an entrepreneur, husband and ultramarathon distance runner. He spends most of his time on and he has been featured on runnerblogs all over the world.


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date: July 31, 2016

Team BT