Run Cadence Questions Answered!

One of the most oft asked questions that I get as a running coach, is about run cadence.  Most especially since the popularity of watches that track cadence, has grown.  What should it be?  How do I improve it?  WHY should I improve it?

All good questions.  So, let’s start at the beginning. 

WHAT is run cadence?  It’s the number of times your foot strikes the ground, when you run, usually measured in one minute increments.  It is a measurement of leg turnover, if you will.  To determine your cadence, pick either your left or right foot, count how many times it hits the ground in a minute, and then multiply by two.  Or if you are lazy like me and lose count often, you could let your fancy run watch tell you your cadence as well. 

WHAT should your cadence be?  We at The Run Formula prescribe a general run cadence of 170-180+.  That said, there are several determinants of your natural/optimal run cadence and for some, trying to reach 180+, for example, might not be entirely realistic.  Height, leg/stride length and running ability can all affect run cadence.  Also, at any given speed for the same runner, cadence may be different.  The faster you are running, usually the higher the cadence and so slower, recovery type runs will likely have lower cadences.  It’s important to not get married to one exact number as a cadence goal, but merely to aim for improvement (if needed) and know that falling within a range (vs always hitting a specific number) is likely.

WHY should cadence be improved?  A higher cadence means less foot contact time with the ground and a quicker, lighter stride.  As you can imagine, this translates into faster paces and a more economical gait.  Even more important, however, is that a low run cadence is usually indicative of over striding which, research has shown, can make you more susceptible to injury.  So working on cadence will make you both faster and less likely to get injured.  SOLD!

And finally, HOW do I improve cadence?  Improvement of cadence can come from both cognitive and biomechanical methods.  Cognitively, just THINKING about improving turnover will help you get better.  You can imagine running over hot coals and quickly turning over your feet so as not to get burned.  There are also many apps out on the market now that can serve as a metronome (stride to the beat!) when you run.  Examples of these are Run Tempo and RockMyRun (you can also set a play list of music with this one).  These apps will help you concentrate on keeping to the beat and desired cadence that you set.  Biomechanically, cadence might be improved with increased hip mobility (if that is an issue for you).  Finally, when trying to improve run cadence, be patient with yourself.  Many runners training with heart rate, as we do at The Run Formula, are frustrated that running at a higher cadence seems to raise their heart rate.  AT FIRST!  Given time and commitment to the process, gradual gait improvement will happen AND you will be able to keep your heart rate in the proper zones!

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