What is Cadence in Running?

Having a good running cadence can help you maintain a consistent pace and improve the position of your foot, which will result in decreased fatigue and keep you running longer.

Understanding and having a higher cadence will decrease the forces that your body uses when hitting the ground. So what is the cadence in running?

Cadence is the number of steps a runner takes in a minute, and walking at a cadence of around 180 steps per minute is ideal for most people. For people who have a slower cadence (around 150 to 160 per minute), increasing their cadence by 10 to 15 can be beneficial.

Typically, taller runners tend to have lower cadence because they take longer strides than shorter runners. This is why it’s not one size fits all when it comes to training.

For instance, while training for a marathon, the cadence of the participants will be different when compared to casual training or a race.

Why is Cadence Important for Your Run

Cadence knowledge is beneficial to all types of runners. Whether a person is running to stay in shape, to compete in their first marathon, to help with sports, or to compete in track and cross country, it helps to know your cadence. 

It affects the speed of a runner, which is especially important if they compete in sports such as cross country and track. When a runner increases their cadence, they increase their speed.

A higher cadence also affects the runner’s potential for injury: it decreases it. When a runner can run with a shorter stride and use more steps per minute, the load on the runner as they run lessens.

In addition, it allows the runner to run with less energy expenditure. This increase in cadence causes less fatigue and exhaustion after runs.

Their cadence varies with each race because of the change in pace needed for each race.

Different Runners Have Different Cadence

Cadence in runners differs depending on weight, height, gender, running ability, and type of running. 

Although a 180 cadence used to be considered the magical number, further research has found that it differs from runner to runner.

Taller runners, for example, often have lower cadences because they naturally take longer strides. Shorter runners often have higher cadences due to their naturally shorter strides. 

It is well-known that if a runner’s cadence is 155 or lower, it is vital to increase it for faster results.

Examples of Olympic Cadences

When discussing cadence it helps to look at professional and Olympic runners’ steps per minute. 

These elite runners average 180 to 200 SPM (steps per minute). The everyday runner or normal competitor averages 150 to 170 SPM.

Usain Bolt, the Jamaican sprinter, known as the fastest sprinter of all time, has a very high cadence. In his 100-meter time, he uses 4.28 steps per second. These steps per second mean his steps per minute (or cadence) is 257 SPM.

While the average runner may never reach this level of steps per minute, showing better cadences will lead to faster and improved running times.

What Affects Your Cadence

If a runner participates in different types of running (distance, sprints, marathons, etc.), they will have different cadences for each. Because of these different cadences for each run, the runner should find it for each specific type of run.

Cadence is affected by a variety of factors. These factors include:

  • Weight
  • Height
  • Gender
  • Running Ability
  • Type of Running
  • Stride Length

Your stride length is the amount of distance that is covered when a step is taken with each foot. 

When a runner combines improving their stride length and cadence, their running will improve. They will get even faster than just focusing on one of them.

A runner’s running speed is based on the two combined. The runner’s speed equals cadence multiplied by stride length.

How to Calculate Your Cadence

It is crucial to know how to calculate cadence. This cadence calculation requires three simple steps. These steps are:

  1. Set a timer for one minute. Do not start it.
  2. Begin to run at your typical pace.
  3. Finally, start the timer and count each step taken in the minute.

Once the timer goes off, the amount of steps counted is your cadence.

If the runner finds it too difficult to time and count, they can have someone else start a timer for them. While the other person times, the runner can count every other step they take. 

When the timer goes off, the runner will calculate the number of steps taken in a minute by multiplying the number they counted by two. They do this because they have only counted every other step.

There are also some watches or apps that measure cadence. These can sometimes be more accurate than measuring cadence by yourself. 

It can also be helpful to have a continuous measure to find a more realistic cadence for distance runners.

How to Improve Cadence Effectively

As a runner, it is necessary to improve cadence to increase speed in races and practice. Some ways have been found very effective for runners to boost their cadences.

The first step is to determine what cadence the runner has for each type of run they do. The runner will then increase their cadence by five to ten percent. This new number will give the runner their goal cadence to work up to. 

If five to ten percent is too much too soon, they can always go down to a lower percentage and work up from there.

Below are a few examples of a possible runner’s cadence for specific types of runs and what their goal cadence could be when increased by five to ten percent.

Type of RunStarting CadenceGoal Cadence
Marathon90 100

It can take months to increase cadence, so runners should not get frustrated if it isn’t something they can do effectively immediately. It takes time to change and improve the cadence runners are used to.

What to Do When You Struggle to Increase Cadence

If a runner is struggling to increase their cadence, there are things they can do to help themselves improve. One of these things is to aim for time or distance. 

A runner can choose a specific time frame in which they try to increase their cadence to their goal cadence. For example, they could run at their goal cadence for one minute, followed by three minutes of their starting cadence.

When choosing distance, a runner could complete three miles at their starting cadence and then run their fourth mile at their goal cadence. Or start the first mile with their goal cadence and end the last three miles at their starting cadence. Differing cadence through distance work can work for any distance a runner may choose to run.

Some other steps that can help with increasing cadence are running to a beat. Increasing cadence can be done by listening to songs while the runner runs to songs with specified beats per minute that match their goal cadence. 

Their steps should match the beats. Matching steps to a beat can be done by listening to a metronome. With the metronome, their feet should be hitting the ground with every click.

Increasing cadence is also achieved by focusing more on steps than speed. If runners amplify their steps first, increased speed will eventually come too.

Runners can also track their progress on apps and watches to determine if the goal cadence is too much too soon, so they can stay on track. 

They can also choose workouts that are geared to help increase cadence such as downhill sprints and running in place. These types of workouts both train the body to move more quickly.