Running Cadence – what is it and why you need to know about it

Dec 9, 2019

Cadence is the number of steps you, as a runner, take per minute. It’s a common metric to measure your running form and is important in your pursuit for improvement.

The shorter your stride length and the quicker your stride rate, the faster and better you run. If you have a low cadence, you will probably also have a long stride. If you overstride, you tend to lock your knees and slam your heels to the ground when you run. This will slow you down, and puts extra pressure on your body, making you more susceptible to injury.

If you increase your cadence, you will change the positioning of where your foot lands while you run. It should land underneath you in your centre of gravity, and NOT in front of your hips. If your foot lands underneath you will waste less energy and ultimately become a faster runner.

How to find out what your cadence is?

 For many years, experts have suggested that runners aim for 180 steps per minute (SPM) to get faster. Recent studies show however, that your optimal cadence depends on factors like your height, weight, the type of running you do and genetic running ability. For example, if you are doing a long training run your cadence will be slower than if you were running a 100m sprint.

Running cadence

Try this!

 Find a smooth, flat surface. Count your steps as you run. You don’t need to count both feet touching the ground for 60 seconds, just count the number of times your right foot hits the ground in 30 seconds and multiply it by four. Repeat this a few times to make sure you are as accurate as possible. Maybe even get someone to watch you to double check or video you running.

How to increase your cadence?

 Take your test cadence (e.g. 162 SPM) and increase that by 10 percent to find your optimal cadence. In this example your optimal cadence will be 178 SPM.

Focus on smaller steps and your form instead of what speed you are running at and practice running in place (twice a week) using the exercise below.

  • Stand in front of a mirror with your feet shoulder-width apart
  • Position your arms and hands as though you were running
  • Run on the spot as fast as you can, bringing your knees halfway up
  • Make sure your knees are pointing straight ahead
  • Make sure your heels are not touching the ground
  • Run for 15 seconds, and then rest for 1 minute
  • Count the number of times your right foot hits the ground
  • Repeat this 2-3 times

One crucial point is to allow your body time to adjust – if you focus on your cadence during your runs and practice drills, you will see an improvement in your speed in about 6-8 weeks. Rushing this process will only lead to injury!

Christine Prokopiak

Christine is a running coach and nutrition specialist based with Sole Buddies #LiveLife in Cape Town. She is also the co-anchor for the GerhardandChristineLiveLife podcast, and co-founder of For The Long Run, a social upliftment project and registered NPO in Fisantekraal. Read more about Sole Buddies here. 


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