The Basics: Cadence

Posted by Dave on July 5, 2011 | 33 Comments

Kenyan-born Bernard Lagat is one of the most-decorated American middle-distance runners in history, chalking up impressive victories in world championships and holding four American records. He’s also admired by coaches for his fluid running form. While it may not be possible for amateur runners to match Lagat’s graceful stride, there is one aspect of his form that anyone should be able to imitate: His cadence. Take a look at this video from a 5,000-meter race in London:

Lagat moves up four places in the final lap to get the victory, all the while maintaining good running form. But interestingly, although he speeds up dramatically for his final lap (in 51.94 seconds, a 400-meter time some college sprinters would be pleased with), his cadence—the number of steps he takes per minute—doesn’t change.

You can verify this for yourself by timing how long it takes for him to take 60 steps (the easiest way to do this is to count 30 motions of one of his arms). I get 60 steps about every 16.64 seconds, for a cadence of 216. As Jack Daniels observes in his book Daniels’ Running Formula, most elite distance runners share this trait: Their cadence doesn’t vary, whether they’re fresh at the start of a race, or struggling at the finish.

More importantly according to Daniels, most elite runners have a cadence that is much faster than beginning runners; he has rarely observed an elite runner with a cadence slower than about 180. I took a look at a couple more videos and confirmed Daniels’ observation:


Meb Keflezhigi has a cadence of about 203 in this video, and here in the dramatic finish of this year’s Boston Marathon, although Caroline Kilel’s form is suffering as she struggles to hold off Desiree Davila, her cadence is a consistent 180 steps per minute:

Davila’s cadence holds steady, too, at about 194 steps per minute.

Yet beginning and recreational runners typically have a cadence closer to 160, which Daniels says puts them at risk for injury because the longer strides necessitated by a slower cadence take runners higher off the ground. This in turn means that each footfall is harder, and many running injuries are associated with the shock of landing. While Daniels can’t cite a study associating slow cadence with running injuries, I put a lot of weight on his experience coaching thousands of runners.

So how can you improve your cadence? Daniels suggests running “as if you’re on eggshells,” and simply counting your steps as you run to track your progress. For the past week, I’ve been trying it myself in training runs. You can calculate your cadence by timing yourself. Count every step taken by your right foot for 30 steps. Then divide this time into 3600. The first time I tried this, about a week ago, 30 steps with my right foot took me 22 seconds. 3600 ÷ 22 = 163 steps per minute. I’m not much better than a typical beginning runner!

Fortunately you don’t need to do this kind of math in your head while you’re running; all you need to shoot for is 30 steps with your right foot every 20 seconds; this corresponds to a cadence of 180. After a few days, I was able to increase my cadence to 180 quite consistently. For the first couple days, I found it a bit harder than my normal cadence, but after that, I found it wasn’t any more difficult than what I had been doing before. Spot-checking a few times on each of my workouts confirmed that I had successfully elevated my cadence.

What this means for you: Anecdotal evidence suggests that if your cadence is slower than 180 steps per minute, you might be able to reduce your risk of injury associated with landing shock by increasing your cadence.

Update: For a more scientific perspective on cadence and injury, see this post.

Daniels, J.T. (2005). Daniels’ Running Formula (2nd ed). Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.

Comments

33 Responses to “The Basics: Cadence”

  1. Marc
    July 6th, 2011 @ 5:09 pm

    Good article! I was in a running efficiency workshop at a local running store last week which focused on increasing cadence. It takes a little while to get used to but I am hopeful it will be quite beneficial.

  2. Adrian
    July 6th, 2011 @ 5:32 pm

    As part of a move to a forefoot/midfoot strike, I’ve been working on upping my cadence. There are a lot of fun little drills and tricks like getting music with the right beat. Initially I found that the higher cadence was hard and I was getting winded but it soon became easy and now it’s second nature. I’m at about 180 and watching these elite athletes do it makes me want to try to up my game even further.

    It really helps to avoid overstriding and reduces the up-down bounce which should make the run more efficient and stops the nasty chafing, especially when running with a water bladder!

    BTW: love these articles but is there any way to subscribe to comment threads? Lots of blogging tools have plugins which should allow this. It’d make discussions much easier. Thanks Dave, I hope you can keep this up.

  3. Jim Cox
    July 6th, 2011 @ 7:59 pm

    Wow, big light-bulb just went off for me. Years ago, I was trying to solve my habit of overtraining and had just bought a heart-rate monitor. Intending to reduce my effort and thus my heart rate, I reduced my pace. Unfortunately I did this by severely reducing my cadence. I damaged my knees so badly that I couldn’t run on anything but a treadmill or cushioned track for a couple years and though it was clearly related, couldn’t really understand why.

  4. Tom D
    July 10th, 2011 @ 1:46 pm

    I tried this the other day. I felt like I was pretending I was riding on a bicycle and my legs would just go around in circles, no extension in my stride at all. I didn’t time/count myself yet so can’t say where I’m at.

  5. Tim Miller
    July 11th, 2011 @ 2:30 pm

    This is not science, this is pure speculation, and there are a number of issues with your analysis.

    First, correlation is not causation, so it is possible there is some variable that effects both variables (eliteness and cadence).

    Second, increasing number of strides may decrease force per footstrike (though you don’t supply any evidence), but for the same amount of time running it logically increases the overall number of footstrikes. So now you would have to show that more force per strike is worse than more cumulative force somehow.

    Third, “anecdotal evidence” is somewhat of an oxymoron. You have anecdotes and unmeasurable “experience” of famous coaches. If you and other runners want to go on that, more power to you, but that’s not science.

  6. Hannah
    July 19th, 2011 @ 5:27 pm

    Thank you for this post! I’ve only been running regularly for 6 months, but in that time the chronic conditions I had from over a decade of serious ballet practice (achilles tendonitis, popping knees, worn out hip flexors) have all but disappeared, my asthma has seen great improvement, and mentally I’m much clearer. However, I’m only at about a 9 minute mile and haven’t fully transitioned to a midfoot/forefoot strike yet, so perhaps increasing cadence is what I need to work on now… Thanks again for the food for thought/training!

  7. Alistair
    August 3rd, 2011 @ 6:08 pm

    @Tim Miller
    You bring up some really solid points regarding the rhetoric of this piece. However, your question regarding force per footstrike versus cumulative force is a fairly easy one to settle.

    First, you ask a question based on a false assumption: “So now you would have to show that more force per strike is worse than more cumulative force somehow.” How does an increased stride rate necessitate a greater cumulative force? You did not present a ratio of force reduction per stride / increase in stride per mile, and therefore are committing exactly the same lack of evidence for your question of which you accuse him.
    Also, this is more for fun, but consider the total force applied to a runner’s frame during the course of an hour run (10,800 strides at 180/minute). Now, condense that total force into less and less impacts– it becomes clear that eventually, the amount of force would simply shatter the bones. At what point a force is weakened enough to where extreme repetition has almost no detrimental effect is, I think, the more appropriate question. If an increase in stride rate allows a runner to decrease impact force to such a point, then it may indeed be possible to decrease or eliminate the risk of injury.

  8. good cadence can reduce your risk of injury | Inov8 Swiss
    August 16th, 2011 @ 5:29 pm

    […] Follow this link to learn more about running Cadence This entry was posted in inov-8. Bookmark the permalink. ← how to improve proprioception […]

  9. gute laufkadenz kann das verletzungsrisiko senken | Inov8 Swiss
    August 16th, 2011 @ 5:35 pm

    […] Um mehr über die Laufkadenz zu erfahren, klicken Sie hier This entry was posted in inov-8. Bookmark the permalink. ← wie verbessert man seine propriozeption […]

  10. Sweat Science » The problem with 180 strides per minute: some personal data
    September 9th, 2011 @ 8:24 pm

    […] my footsteps. Sparked by interesting discussions with the likes of Pete Larson from Runblogger and Dave Munger from Science-Based Running, I’ve been wondering what my own cadence is like — particularly in light of widespread […]

  11. Adım, Kadans ve Koşu Formu Üzerine Toparlanmış Fikirler « Ritim
    November 29th, 2011 @ 4:30 pm

    […] iki ay kadar sonra Dave Munger, Science-Based Running isimli blogunda kadansı konu alan bir yazı yayınladı. Yazının başında Bernard Lagat’ın, son turunda, hızlanarak önündeki 4 […]

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    January 14th, 2012 @ 6:00 am

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  13. lolo341
    January 19th, 2012 @ 4:04 pm

    nice site, although i find it far easier to count your right foot steps for 60 sec. then multiply by 2

  14. Daniel
    February 3rd, 2012 @ 9:09 am

    I have enjoyed the article and responses herein.Love the boffin repartee which is really a lovely way of determining the essence of the matter…Not a very scientific statement from me though.I have literally started my running program 3 days ago, which adheres to the 180 steps per minute / mid-front foot cum expensive psuedo barefoot shoe phenomenon / lean / running on eggshells technique.I probably havent run for more than 5 km in my life and have created a program where I increase my running time (not distance)by 1 minute per day for 21 days (Is 21 not a good number of days to establish a habit?).I then intend to work up to 45 minutes of running twice weekly by the 15th week having increased my twice weekly runtime by 1 minute each run time until I reach 45 minutes (ie @ the end of the 15th week) This probably sounds more complicated than it is but hopefully is simply a method of introducing and establishing good technique and endurance. In order to get 180 steps p/min. I am using my watch and practicing a waltz cadence 1-2-3 per second in order to achieve 180 steps p/min. Is my desire to find some ultimate method mere folly? I am not sure but I am enjoying the learning curve.Any comments on my program would be appreciated.

  15. Dan
    March 3rd, 2012 @ 12:19 am

    Very nice article. I am a convert to high cadence running. It has made all the difference for me. Less injuries while increasing my distance and intensity. I have found the best way to train a high cadence is to synch my running stride with music that has the right beats per minute. I have put together a list of my favorite 180 steps per minute songs at http://www.best-running-songs.com

    I hope that helps a few out there!

  16. Avijit
    March 8th, 2012 @ 1:16 pm

    Great Many tips ! I took them for a spin.. I run for an hour easy…but the cadence as it stood today was 160 odd… will try to improve and post back… cheers !

  17. stoo
    March 23rd, 2012 @ 8:06 pm

    “For the first couple days, I found it…”

    Couple OF days :) Sorry, it’s my pet peeve, it doesn’t make sense in the English language just to say “A couple days”, you have to say a couple OF days, like you would say a couple of people, a couple of things, a couple of minutes. It sounds really unprofessional and slang especially when the rest of the article was so perfectly written!

  18. JMartin
    April 8th, 2012 @ 9:09 pm

    From a physics perspective, it must be that longer strides result in larger forces. Just draw out a stick figure runner and it becomes obvious. For an infinitely short stride, the runner’s center of gravity doesn’t budge and the force is the same as standing. As the stride length increases, the center of gravity moves further up and down each stride. (Unless that potential energy change is recaptured by the stretching of tendon and muscle, it’s wasted – and there must be a limit to how much can be efficiently stored.) The trick is to get the right balance between stride length and cadence.

    Yes, the total number of repetitions/strikes goes up with increased cadence, but it’s quite plausible that injuries are caused by forces that exceed threshold values. As an analogy, it’s the one deep pot hole that blows your tire, not the many little ones. Also, think about the far fewer injuries suffered while walking.

    Interestingly, elite runners are featherweights who suffer less force at the same acceleration than ordinary runners. You’d think that their optimum stride/cadence would skew toward longer length and lower cadence, but the observed data are just the opposite.

    Although the observation that most elite runners have a high cadence is only correlative with speed (and anecdotal versus injury), it’s already substantially better “science” than what the shoe companies fob on us. It wouldn’t be hard to conduct a rigorous study, but somebody has to do it and somebody has to pay for it.

  19. Nate B
    April 29th, 2012 @ 7:01 pm

    I use a metronome. I did not know at what pace to set it, but I was comfortable with 144 bpm. The first time I tried, I took 20% off of my time. Now I know to work it up towards 200. Thank you.

  20. The Basics: Cadence « Dr. Nick's Running Blog
    May 30th, 2012 @ 9:48 pm
  21. Chris Howard
    June 5th, 2012 @ 7:13 am

    I’m very confused! Watching the Lagat video those guys have very long strides. Whereas all the talk of increasing cadence seems to be about shorter strides. Is there any videos on line that demonstrate this cadence thing in slow mo?

  22. Dave Munger
    June 5th, 2012 @ 10:28 am

    Chris, to improve speed you need to increase either cadence or stride length (or both) — those are the only ways.

    If you want to decrease your chance of injury, some research suggests increasing cadence while shortening stride will reduce the impact on your muscles, possibly reducing injuries. In this case, you may be running the exact same speed as before!

    Professional runners like Lagat have both long strides and fast cadence — that’s why they are so fast.

  23. Chris Howard
    June 8th, 2012 @ 7:05 am

    Thanks, Dave. So… what do I do? My cadence is around 155-160. I can run reasonably comfortably at 6:00min/km pace (for 5km). But my next goal is to get that down to 5:00 and then 4:30. (My fastest single kilometre is 4:43, 3km is 16:09 and 5km is 29:09) Do I work on cadence or stride to bring my times down? And does a faster cadence or longer stride use less energy?

    Thanks heaps.

    PS Bit of background if it helps… Age 48, male, hadn’t run since made to as a teen. Took up running in March 2012 using a 9 week Couch to 5K program. And I think I’m hooked… :S

  24. Anders
    June 20th, 2012 @ 6:39 pm

    Great post.

    I’m have been running barefooted for couple of weeks, not because I really want to, but because it’s the fastest way to learn good form.

    Is there anything specific to look out for, when starting on high cadence. It’s more taxing, so I figure I have to cut the length of my runs? New muscles activated from good form? Are there any good gym routines, that help the transition?

  25. How Running Cadence Can Be A Clue To Injury Prevention « Dr. Nick's Running Blog
    July 26th, 2012 @ 8:36 am

    […] Available at http://sciencebasedrunning.com/2011/07/the-basics-cadence/ . Published July 5, 2011. Accessed July 16, 2012. Share this:TwitterFacebookLike this:LikeBe the […]

  26. Quora
    August 21st, 2012 @ 3:49 pm

    Is it true that modern running shoes have severely weakened our feet and lower limbs?…

    Hi Gabriel, OK, great. In that case, it will be less of an adjustment for you than it is for me. So are you attempting to change to fore foot? Hm, I wasn’t familiar with the term cadence, thanks for mentioning it. I hadn’t heard that it was significa…

  27. Michael
    October 8th, 2012 @ 9:44 pm

    A better way to measure cadence in an easy calculation.
    # of steps in a 20 second timeslot x 6.

    25 steps x 6 = 150 Cadence
    27 steps x 6 = 162
    30 steps x 6 = 180
    33 steps x 6 = 198

    It’s easier to work out in your head than counting footfalls for 30 seconds checking the time and then dividing that number into 3600.

    All you do is set your watch with a 20 second countdown – start running, hit the starter on your timer, count footfalls on one leg, then stop counting when your timer goes off. You can actually keep running and do the mental arithmetic. – or write on your hand the answers as above and you can then work on your cadence without breaking stride to punch numbers into your phone / calculator.

  28. http://tinyurl.com/learbevan15453
    January 23rd, 2013 @ 3:11 am

    I actually wonder as to why you called this particular article, “The
    Basics: Cadence : Science-Based Running”. In any case I personally loved the post!
    Thanks for your effort,Glinda

  29. George
    April 10th, 2013 @ 3:11 pm

    A higher cadence actually works wonders. Other cool things happen, too: your average heart rate goes down and still you are running faster than before. You don’t get as tired as before, especially on long runs. This is what I have tested and found on myself. Yes, it’s not really scientific, but you have to try it first before lift your This-is-not-science finger.

  30. Running Form – Cadence | Run With Woot
    June 27th, 2013 @ 3:58 pm

    […] of the rest of us, a quicker cadence will lead to faster times and possibly, fewer injuries: ( fromhttp://sciencebasedrunning.com/2011/07/the-basics-cadence/ ) …beginning and recreational runners typically have a cadence closer to 160, which […]

  31. Jozef
    September 9th, 2013 @ 12:22 pm

    I was also running at low cadence in past so I have started making soundtracks at specific cadence and using them to keep my cadence at desired rate.
    You are welcome to download any soundtrack from my website you like: http://bpmrunningmusic.com

  32. jerzy
    May 24th, 2014 @ 7:56 am

    I am very into cadence at the moment. At the beginning my cadence was 160.I have successfully managed to lift it up to 180. My golden rule was to run with metronome. I downloaded 180 bpm and put it in my mp3 and listened to it when training. And OO boy there was a noticible difference, i managed to run the same distance quicker and lighter. There was no calf pain i experienced before and it just felt great! So my advice is to use metronome.

  33. Andrew Turner
    October 6th, 2014 @ 12:32 pm

    180 is three steps a second. Pretty simple really. Distance travelled per stride is the difference between fast and slow runners of the same cadence. Cadence and full extension at push of are key.