The Truth About Running Cadence

So what should your running cadence be? 180 steps per minute, right? Hmm, let's explore a little bit more.

Back in the early 2000s I spent quite a bit of time focusing on running cadence. Why?

Well, my running bible, Daniels' Running Formula, written by famous running coach Jack Daniels told me that all elite runners have a running cadence of 180. So I decided I needed to run at that cadence as well.

Before we continue let's just get into:

What is running cadence?

The official definition:

Running cadence / Stride rate = The number of steps you take on average per minute

Running cadence plays a role in the efficiency of your running. How much energy you use when you run. The less energy you use over a given distance, the better. It means you can go faster for longer. So, are you an efficient runner?

Or let me ask you this question...

Do you run like a gazelle or do you run like an elephant?

It is, hopefully ... :), obvious that running like a gazelle is more efficient than running like an elephant.

Your running economy incorporates more than running cadence alone. It is about all those elements that together define how much energy you use to move yourself forward.

But in this section I focus on running cadence.

running cadence elephant
Do you run like an elephant...

running cadence gazelle
...Or do you run like a gazelle ?

What Should My Running Cadence Be?

As I mentioned before. We used to think the answer was 180. Elite runners run at a stride rate of 180-190 steps per minute. Any official race from 800 metres up proves this point.

running cadence
Most of the time it is not that easy to see, when you are watching TV. But next time when championship races are being broadcasted, you should have a try.

Count the number of steps a competitor takes with his right foot during 15 seconds. Multiply by two (we can assume the athlete takes the same number of steps with his/her left foot as well... :)).

Then multiply by four to get the number of steps per minute.

I assure you, you will get close to 180. Does not matter whether you watch a 5K or a marathon race. Only difference is that the athletes running a 5K take bigger steps and are therefore going faster than the athletes doing a marathon.

running quote - pain now. beer later.

However, since that revelation things have changed. So, I want to talk about what we have learned about running cadence since Jack Daniels' book. By the way, Daniels' Running Formula is an absolutely fantastic book about running training. It used to be by my side all the time. I still love it. I use it very often, with my own running and when I am advising others. I highly recommend the book to anybody wanting to improve their running training.

So, Jack Daniels mentioned the holy grail: 180 steps per minute. And the running world followed. We all tried to achieve it. Through drills, running with a metronome etc, etc.

Did it work? Maybe for some. Not for me.

My Experiences with Trying to Run 180 Steps per Minute

running cadence
What I discovered was that my normal stride rate during easy runs was somewhere around the 165 steps per minute.

I tried to work out how to get to more steps per minute.

I had these little drills that I would do at the end of runs. However, the only thing that really seemed to work structurally was running faster. During intervals I'd sometimes get to 190-200 steps per minute. Sometimes a bit less, 180-ish. In 5k and 10k races, I'd get to close to 180 for 5ks, usually bit lower for 10ks. What was wrong with me? In hindsight, nothing.

Well, maybe my unhealthy obsession with running cadence... :)

We now know that running cadence is impacted by a variety of factors. Terrain of course plays a role; hills and trails have an impact. But more than that it is you, the runner, itself. How tall are you, how long are your legs, how much running do you do, what is your build?

We have learned that you do not need to run at 180 beats per minute. In fact, when you are running at an easy pace, you most likely have a running cadence of 160+. Most of us find ourselves in the 163-165 zone. And that is fine. When you are faster, you are possibly ticking over in the 170s. When you are even faster and hit 180-ish in your easy runs... well, then what the heck are you doing here, I am not sure if I can teach you much... :)

What should we do with this information? Is cadence completely unimportant?

No, unless your stride rate is incredibly low, there is likely not a need to focus on it. If you feel your cadence needs improving, the few things that can help are:

  • Run more - The act of running helps you improve. You train more, your body finds ways to do the same thing more efficiently.

  • Strides - At the end of an easy run, focus on running strides. Aim at light, quick steps.

  • running cadence
    Now, it's the same advice I would give somebody not struggling with cadence... :) But, it's true. Running more and running strides will help improve your cadence over time. But don't get too obsessed about hitting 180. Turns out, this is one of those things where we have learned over time that it is not the be all and end all.

    Hope that sets your mind at ease!

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