Run Cadence – Why does it matter to your running performance?

As I work with more runners in private coaching sessions, I find that running with good form is still a big unknown.  This sometimes comes as a shock to me with all the literature out there on the topic.  As of no fault to the runner, not everyone understands that metrics like run cadence and vertical oscillation apply to their own running form as well.  And not just to those individuals in it for performance goals based on time and place in races.

Good form means you are using the correct muscles at the correct time to decrease the impact on your body. With each runner, I always make sure to reiterate that they are going to have their own style.  However, there are several components of running form that must be addressed.  These components include run cadence, braking, movement of the pelvis, and more.  Discussing these variables allows you to establish better training routines that will enhance your overall running performance.  For the average runner and weekend warrior, the main benefit might be in decreasing the risk of injury.

What is Run Cadence?

Your running cadence is the total number of times your feet make contact with the ground each minute.  It is also commonly referred to as ”steps per minute,” ”strides per minute,” or “revolutions per minute (RPM).”  Just remember, we are looking at how many times your feet touch the ground and how that number impacts your running form and performance.

Why is Run Cadence Important?

A low number of steps per minute while running is often an indicator of over-striding, heel striking or high bounce.  All of these factors can lead to a ton of wasted energy and an increased risk of injury.  If your number is too high, then it can mean that your stride or time in the air is too short.  With too high of a cadence number, you are shuffling your feet.  It means you are not allowing your body to develop the most power with each stride.  So like everything in this sport, the optimal run cadence for you may be different than your running partner.

How can Run Cadence be measured?

One of the easiest running form metrics to measure, your running cadence can be calculated by counting the number of times your left foot hits the ground in a minute (60-seconds).  Then, simply multiply that number by two to get your run cadence.  For example, my left foot hits the ground 80 times in 60-seconds, 80 x 2 = 160 steps per minute (run cadence).

Your cadence will vary slightly based on your running pace and amount of fatigue.  Therefore, I recommend measuring your steps per minute several times over the course of a couple days and taking an average.

What is the goal Run Cadence?

Now that you know your average steps per minute, what number should you be running with?  Is your number too high or too low?

In long distance running, the target number is 180 steps per minute.  Research has shown that most amateur to elite runners will achieve this goal number with little effort.  These ‘running form specialists’ may even be able to optimally maintain up to 200 steps per minute.  While many recreational runners tend to fall in the range of 150 to 170 steps per minute.

To know if your number is too high or too low for you requires asking questions and reviewing other components of running form.  You can also simply ask yourself two questions; What issues am I having with my running performance? and, What aches or injuries do I consistently have to deal with in my running?  As mentioned, run cadence can indicate over-striding, heel braking, bouncing and more in your form.

How do I practice Run Cadence?

Once you know your average run cadence, go out for a short run to practice.  Aim for landing your foot closer to underneath your pelvis by taking shorter and quicker strides.  If your original run cadence was on the low-end make it a goal to only increase by 10-15% from one training session to the next.  Attempting to increase your run cadence to quickly can easily lead to increased risk of injury and fatigue.

Remember, you are going to have a unique run cadence.  With the help of a running coach, you can more accurately define the appropriate number for you and the rest of your optimal running form.

Here are some drills and visualizations to start improving your running cadence and overall running form…

Drills:
(1) Run in Place – focus on quickly picking up your feet and staying on your toes. Maintain your form, but try to move your feet as quickly as you can.

(2) High Knees in Place – Pick up your feet quickly by driving your knees up, which will reduce your contact time with the ground. Ideally, you want your knees to come parallel to the ground. However, start with what feels comfortable and what your current flexibility level can handle. Maintain your overall running posture and use your arms just as you would with running.

(3) High Knees Moving Forward – Pick up your feet by driving your knees up, cover 15-20 yards and repeat 2-4 times with a brief rest in between each time. Maintain your overall running posture and use your arms. Think about pushing off the ground quickly with your toes on each step.

This brief video will show you four simple running drills to improve your running cadence.

Visualizations:
(1) Puddle Running – pretend that you are running through a puddle of water and trying not to get your shoes wet. Think about quick and light steps.

(2) Hot Coals – pretend you are running over hot coals to promote a faster turnover of steps.

What have you found to help improve your running cadence?

Check out my Free – Running Form Clinic on the Events Calendar!

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