Running Cadence: Do Shorter Strides Make You Faster?
Running Cadence: Do Shorter Strides Make You Faster?
Tracking your running cadence can ultimately help you become a better, faster runner but there is no one universal cadence that everyone should aim to run at.
However, there is a range that you should strive to be in.
In short, running cadence refers to the number of times your feet hit the ground within a specified amount of time (usually a minute). So logically, if you increase the number of steps you’re running in a minute, you’ll be moving forward faster.
Several factors impact your optimal running cadence, including your height, weight, leg length, stride and general running ability.
But before we get into all of that, let’s find out more about running cadence and what it actually is...
What is cadence in running
There are two ways that running cadence can be defined. The first in the total number of times your feet will hit the ground (steps taken) in a minute or another defined period of time.
Running cadence is therefore measured in strides per minute (spm).
The second is calculated by tracking the number of steps only one of your feet takes during a minute. Some popular fitness brands, such as Polar, use this definition of running cadence in their running watches and other fitness gadgets.
Running cadence and the length of a runner’s stride are the two factors that affect a runner’s speed.
Therefore, if you want to become a faster runner, you should either increase the number of steps you take in a minute (your running cadence) or the length of your strides.
For beginner and recreational runners, the average running cadence is anywhere between 160-170spm and cadences lower than 160spm are usually seen in runners who tend to overstride.
More experienced runners and elite runners usually aim to have an optimal cadence of 180 steps per minute.
Fun Cadence Fact: Where did the 180 Steps per Minute come from?
The cadence 'rule of thumb' of 180spm as the running cadence number you should aim for has been around since the 1984 Olympics.
A running coach by the name of Jack Daniels noted that the vast majority of the Olympic athletes' race cadence exceeded 180spm.
How to increase your running cadence
Increasing your running cadence takes time but it is doable. There are 3 things that you can try to gradually improve your strides per minute.
1. Build it up slowly
You can start to increase your running cadence by upping your regular cadence by about 5-10% in one or two of your weekly runs.
You could also alternate between your normal running cadence and a slightly faster cadence during your runs. So run normally for about 5 minutes and then run at a faster cadence for one minute.
Alternating with distance also works for this technique. So, for example, you’d run every 4th or 5th kilometre at a higher cadence.
Once you get more used to that running cadence try running a 5 or 10k with that new running cadence and see how it goes. From there you can just keep increasing it slowly and incorporating it into your weekly runs without stressing your body and leg muscles.
2. Try using a metronome
Metronomes are devices that are used to keep a specific time or rhythm. They produce a set number of clicks or beats per minute which you can follow without having to manually keep count of how many steps you’re taking.
It’s very easy to lose track of your running cadence if you’re monitoring it without the help of any gadgets and you’ll often increase or decrease your speed as you run without meaning to do so. This is why metronomes are so handy for runners as they help you to keep your stride without even thinking about it.
You can set the number of clicks per minute the metronome will produce so you can easily start to increase your running cadence by gradually setting it a little bit higher until you’ve reached your goal running cadence.
3. Run on the spot
There are a number of running drills you can do to help increase your cadence but a simple, easy one that you can do at home is to run in place. To do this drill start by standing with your feet hip width apart and then run on the spot as fast as you can for 20 seconds.
When you run in place, lift your knees up halfway so that they point forwards and run on the balls of your feet making sure your heels don’t touch the floor.
Rest for a minute after the 20 seconds of fast running and then repeat two or three more times. This drill is easy and quick to do at home in your free time and helps to train your feet to move off the ground quicker which will help to increase your running cadence.
You can do this drill a few times per week and keep track of how many times your feet hit the ground in the 20 second period. In this case, counting the number of times one of your feet strikes the ground will be easier to keep track of so choose either your right or left foot to focus on. If the number gets higher, you will know that you are getting quicker and improving your running cadence.
How Important is Running Cadence?
Pro Tip: If you're wondering how important running candence is then listen to episode of the RUN with Coach Parry Podcast.
Can't Listen now? Read the full transcript
Brad Brown: You’re listening to the Ask Coach Parry podcast, question in from Rob Arnold today, also within the Coach Parry membership site. If you want to join, just go to coachparry.com/join, you get priority scheduling on these questions as well. Rob, great question today.
Lindsey, he said, have we covered cadence previously? We’ve touched on it, but we haven’t done too much Rob. He said: could you possibly provide some insight on this in terms of training run cadence versus a Comrades Marathon cadence and preferably for Bill Rowan, but would obviously like it to be as valuable for as many people as possible. Lindsey, is cadence such a big thing? Is it something we should be really focusing on and if so, what do we need to do?
Lindsey Parry: Look, I’ll give you some basics. Effectively the faster we run, the higher our cadence tends to be and that will also be for different people. As a faster runner, I would typically have a higher cadence than a slower runner. But then also I will have a higher cadence when I’m running faster than when I’m running slower. We shouldn’t manipulate cadence much.
Is cadence just a buzz word?
Look, there’s been loads of articles about it, both in scientific literature, as well as in your everyday magazine type of literature. It has been a little bit of a buzz word and a lot of coaches that focus heavily on cadence and running form and these sort of things.
I feel almost, they feel a little pressured into making their, or their charges or whatever it is, relevant. Because the reality is that the research very clearly shows that whenever we manipulate cadence, running form or anything to do with our running. When we manipulate it artificially, without question, every single time a coconut, we become less efficient.
There may be some injury benefits or prevention benefits, those sort of things I haven’t delved into. But time and time again, research paper after research paper, we become less efficient when we manipulate our running stride or our cadence and our running form or biomechanics.
Your body finds the most economical cadence
Your body will find the most efficient/economical cadence, stride etcetera for you. This will change constantly, depending on how tired you are, the distance you’re running, the speed that you’re running. Every single step you take while running, provides your body with a new learning opportunity.
It gets biomechanical feedback, it gets bio feedback, it gets proprioceptive feedback. Then it makes small adjustments, almost constantly. Making small adjustments to find what is, for you at that moment in time, the most efficient way to run.
I’m not going to give out ideal cadences because they are unique to each individual. How tall you are, if you’re like me with very short legs and a long torso or if you’ve got a short torso and long legs. Which is what you would prefer if you wanted to be a really good runner, but there are just so many things.
Tibial length versus femur length, all of these things play a role because our body effectively works on a system of levers which is physics. Those forces will all change, depending on how long those lever arms or how short they are, how long and short they are relative to each other. I hope I didn’t make that answer too complicated. Because the simple version is to run at what feels comfortable to you and not to do too much outside manipulation.
BB: Brilliant stuff, Lindsey, thank you very much. Rob, I hope that helps and best of luck on your journey. If you’ve got any other questions, pop them into that private Facebook group and we’ll be sure to get to them as soon as we can. Until next time, from myself, Brad Brown and Lindsey Parry, it’s cheers.
What is a good running cadence?
You're probably wondering 'What should my cadence be for running?' and chances are you've read or heard that 180spm is the optimal running cadence, but that is not the case and is a finding that has been repeatedly taken out of its original context.
Every runner is different and needs to find the cadence that works for them as individuals.
Running cadence also depends on your weight, height and general running ability as well as the types of runs you are doing.
For a long distance run, your running cadence will be slower than during your speedwork and races so it’s a good idea to know what your different cadences are for your easy, normal and tempo runs as well as for your half marathons, marathons and other races.
To know what your cadences are, you need to monitor your running cadence in each of those types of runs, either with one of your running gadgets or just count your steps manually for a minute at a time every now and then in your run (although this won’t be as accurate).
If you are counting your steps manually, you can count the number of times your right or left foot strikes the ground in 30 seconds and then multiply that number by 4 to get your running cadence.
Once you know your natural running cadence you can then work on improving and increasing it by practicing the methods mentioned in the section above.
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Running cadence and injuries
Studies have shown that slightly higher running cadences can actually help prevent injuries from occurring as it affects an athlete's running form.
A faster running cadence takes stress off the knee and hip joints because there is less jarring as with a long stride. This decreases the likelihood of injuries surrounding those areas, which are very common in runners.
Runners with a higher cadence have a shorter stride length than runner’s with a lower cadence who tend to take longer strides and put more load onto their heels when their foot hits the ground. This can not only slow you down, but also contribute to injuries.
So gradually increasing your stride rate can help you become a better runner while also preventing injuries.
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