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Find Your Optimal Run Cadence: Cadence Running Explained

Taren Gesell

Running cadence is a crucial aspect of a runner's performance. It is defined as the number of steps taken per minute while running. Understanding and optimizing your running cadence can significantly impact your speed, efficiency, and overall performance, whether you're a beginner or an advanced runner.

Running speed is determined by two factors - running cadence and stride length. The formula for running speed is straightforward:

Running speed = running cadence (SPM) x stride length

This means that by increasing your running cadence, you'll naturally increase your speed. As we'll discuss below, you can even do so without using any additional effort.

However, high cadence running has been a controversial topic with run coaches. Coaches believed for years that there was an optimal cadence everyone should target, or that a higher cadence was always better. We now know that this isn't the case. Every runner is unique, and finding your own personal best running cadence is key to unlocking your full potential.

This article will delve deeper into cadence running, dispel any myths, and help you find your best stride rate. Whether you're a beginner or an advanced runner, this information is crucial to taking your performance to the next level.

In this article, you will learn:

  • What is cadence in running
  • What is the average running cadence
  • How to measure running cadence
  • What is a good cadence for running
  • How to increase running cadence
  • What should your running cadence be
Athlete David Grenier has used the MOTTIV app to train for and check off a number of bucket list endurance races for the past several years.

What is a Good Cadence for Running?

Back in the 1980s, run coach Jack Daniels spread the idea that there was an optimal running cadence for everyone. He concluded that the best cadence for all runners was 180 steps per minute, after finding that the average running cadence of elite runners in the 1984 Olympics was 180. Many runners worked on hitting this 180 spm.

However, almost all new studies have shown that a one-size-fits-all approach to running cadence isn't right. Every runner has their own natural running cadence, which is influenced by a variety of factors:

  • Stride length: runners with a shorter stride will naturally require a faster running cadence than people with longer strides
  • Runner height: taller runners tend to have a lower cadence
  • Terrain: uphill, downhill, and technical trails will slow down your cadence, while cushioned running tracks will increase your cadence
  • Foot landing position: runners who heel strike tend to have a slower running cadence
  • Natural running biomechanics: some people naturally move slower or quicker than others
  • Runner speed: runners with an easy run pace slower than 10 minutes per mile (6min/km) tend to have a run pace in the 155-170 strides per minute range, while runners with an easy run pace faster than 10 minutes per mile (6min/km) tend to have a run pace in the 170-185 strides per minute range

One of our favorite studies on running cadence found that everyone has their own natural running cadence, and as long as it's over 160 steps per minute, you shouldn't worry about altering it.

However, the study also found that elite runners could increase their cadence by 3% from their natural run and run faster without any additional effort. Beginner runners could increase their cadence by up to 8% from their natural run and be able to run faster without any extra effort.

While there isn't a single best running cadence for everyone, and a higher cadence isn't always better, a slight increase above your natural run cadence appears beneficial for running speed. The key is to find your optimal running cadence and understand the factors that affect it, then make minor adjustments as needed to optimize your performance.

4 Benefits of Improving Cadence for Beginner Runners

For beginner and advanced runners alike, increasing running cadence has several benefits. Here are a few of the most important:

  1. Benefit #1: Reduced Risk of Injury. A study found that increasing run cadence by approximately 7% reduced the impact force of each foot strike by 5.6%. While this should theoretically decrease the likelihood of injury, it's important to note that the relationship between higher cadence and lower injury rates is not proven. In fact, making drastic changes to your natural running stride may actually increase your risk of injury.
  2. Benefit #2: Faster Run Speeds with Same Energy. The study we mentioned earlier found that runners could run slightly faster with similar energy expenditure when they consciously increased their cadence by 3-8%.
  3. Benefit #3: Improved Running Form. Another study found that high stride frequencies are associated with good running techniques such as reduced bouncing, less ground contact time, better leg stiffness, and lower horizontal braking forces.
  4. Benefit #4: Improved Speed and Performance Over Time. As runners consciously focus on a slightly faster cadence, their self-selected cadence will gradually increase, and their technique will also improve. These changes will happen naturally over time and should improve running speeds.

How to Improve Your Running Cadence in 5 Steps

STEP 1: Measure Your Cadence

The first step to improve your cadence is to measure your current average running cadence. This will give you a benchmark to use, to improve your running cadence. There are two ways to measure cadence:

  1. Manual: Count the number of times your foot hits the ground in a minute. You can do this by using a timer or a running watch.
  2. Automatic: Most running watches can detect running cadence. You can set the screen of your running watch to display average or current cadence while running.

STEP 2: Focusing on Footstrike

It's essential to start with a good foundation of a sound running technique. Many beginner runners tend to land out in front of their body, which applies a braking force and slows down their run cadence. To improve this, you need to train your body to run and land under your body. You can do this by performing the following running technique drill:

  • Jump up and down lightly in place
  • Start performing butt kicks
  • Lean forward to start running and keep going with the same sensation of where you were landing when you were doing butt kicks in place. You'll almost certainly be landing under your body now
This is what the buttkick drill looks like

To re-train your body to run with this improved run form without having to think about it, stop every three minutes during a run workout and perform that drill. After a few weeks, you'll be landing under your body much more than when you started.

STEP 3: Interval Running Workouts

Fast running during your interval runs is an excellent time to try to pick up your run cadence. During your fast interval run workout, try to turn over your feet faster. It's important not to try to run faster, instead just try to take slightly shorter foot strides.

You can use a metronome set at a slightly higher beat than your typical average cadence during intervals or watch the cadence reading on your watch and bring it up by 5-10 spm.

You can use a workout similar to this half marathon run workout from the MOTTIV training app, to work on your run cadence.

STEP 4: Long Trail Runs

Long trail runs are a highly underutilized tool for increasing cadence. When you're running on trails, the surface you're running on will be soft, making it tougher for your body to keep up with a fast running cadence.

If you work to keep your cadence fast when you're trail running, it'll be easier to increase your strides per minute during road runs. This is one reason athletes who use our app's training plans are encouraged to perform long runs on hills and trails.

This is a long run workout from a half marathon training plan in the MOTTIV training app.

STEP 5: Using Music or a Metronome

If you have difficulty increasing your running cadence, you can use a metronome or music to set a beat. Simply search app stores for "running metronome," and you'll find many options. Set the beat 5-10 beats higher than your current self-selected foot strikes per minute, and try to match the beat with the steps you take.

Wrap-Up on How to Improve Your Cadence

There are some clear benefits to slowly working on increasing your average run cadence by 3-8% over the course of a couple of years. You'll run faster, with better form, use less energy, and hopefully reduce the likelihood of getting a running injury.

However, running cadence isn't something that will make or break your training. If you really want to perform well in running races, you need a personalized, well-structured training plan.  

Check out the run training programs in our app. We have plans from 5k, 10k, half-marathon, and marathon all the way up to ultramarathons.

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Taren Gesell
Taren Gesell

"Triathlon Taren" Gesell is founder of MOTTIV and one of the world's top experts on helping adults become endurance athletes later in life. Best known for his YouTube channel and podcast, Taren is the author of the Triathlon Foundations series of books and has been published featured in endurance publications around the world.

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