Running Cadence – Recent Research and Metronomes

Dec 19, 2011   //   by James Dunne   //   Running Technique Advice  //  14 Comments

One of the most common running technique dysfunctions we see in triathletes and runners across all levels is the tendency to overstride, creating excessive braking force when their foot strikes the ground too far ahead of their centre of mass.

While this is a widespread problem, it’s also easily addressed: increasing your stride frequency (cadence) for a given pace will result in a foot strike closer to under your hips and therefore centre of mass. Thus reducing impact and braking forces with each stride.

For many, this in itself may not be groundbreaking news… However, often we get asked by athletes to put a figure on what rate of running cadence they specifically should be looking to achieve to stop themselves from overstriding.

sometimes misleading goal cadence often cited is 180 strides per minute (spm) as described by Coach Jack Daniels. He noted that elite runners tend to run with a cadence in the range of 180-200spm. Subsequently 180spm has become somewhat of a “magic number” for runners to try to work their cadence up towards.

However, this advice doesn’t take into account two specific factors:

  1. The wide variation between individual athletes. Specifically with regard to the initial rate of their running cadence before any changes are made.
  2. Cadence across differing running speeds. We’re not all elite runners! Optimal cadence rates vary between individuals and even within an individual athlete for differing running paces.

Research published in 2011 by Heiderscheit et al. indicates that running at a 5-10% higher rate of cadence (than your norm for a given pace) results in a reduction of impact and therefore loading on the knee and hip joints, a decrease the amount of vertical displacement of the centre of mass (bounce), a shortening in stride length, and created less braking force at contact with the ground.

Download the Research PaperAll of these reported responses to an increase in cadence are positive and desirable in terms of creating a more efficient running form. Coincidentally, if you take a runner who currently runs at 164spm (which is very common) and increase his cadence by 10%, his cadence will fall within Daniels’ 180-200spm range.

The important point is how you achieve the increase, and how far do you push your cadence upwards. Just as with anything running related, you don’t want to make too big a change too quickly.

Our Coaching Recommendations

As part of our popular Online Running Technique Course, we usually recommend that if you feel you are overstriding, you first measure your current cadence rate, then train your body to increase this rate by 5% initially. This could be simply increasing your rate from 156spm to 164spm, which is much more achievable and sustainable than jumping straight to 180spm.

Once comfortable with the new cadence, you can then increase your cadence incrementally further until you’re no longer overstriding. Heiderscheit et al. (2011) have now given us the research to back up what we have been saying, in as much as that 180spm is an ok figure to work towards… but more importantly just increase your cadence 5-10% by bit for a given speed, knowing that any slight increase will be beneficial due to the reduction in overstriding!

Measure Your Cadence

There are two easy methods for measuring your cadence. Firstly using a Garmin FootPod or similar, secondly physically counting footfalls over a given time. I usually suggest counting one leg for 30 seconds and multiplying by 4.

Running With a Metronome

One great way to train your body to increase your cadence is to practice running using a small digital metronome, set to a specific rhythm (desired cadence). Try for short bursts initially to match your running stride frequency to the beeping without speeding up your running pace. Initially this will feel strange, even a little forced, but you will get used to the increased rhythm.

The goal shouldn’t just be to continue to increase your cadence rate, but more so to elevate it to a comfortable but more active rate (for a desired pace), then use a metronome to work on sustaining this rate of cadence across the duration of your long runs (or other sessions) as you fatigue. The tendency will be for cadence to drop as you fatigue.

Unnaturally forcing an uncomfortably high cadence too soon can result in it’s own technique issues. This is the main reason for suggesting that you don’t jump straight to 180spm, rather you increase by 5%, then 5% again once comfortable… and so on…!

About The Author

James has an academic background in Sport Rehabilitation and a special interest in Applied Biomechanics. He currently coaches a large number of Runners and Triathletes across all levels of ability and performance. He's grown a strong reputation for enabling athletes to improve their running performance and overcome running injuries through improving their Running Technique and developing Running Specific Strength.

 

14 Comments

  • [...] jQuery("#errors*").hide(); window.location= data.themeInternalUrl; } }); } http://www.kinetic-revolution.com – Today, 5:21 [...]

  • An important point missed here I think is that you can run at the same cadence but differing speed/pace. Quick cadence doesn’t equal fast pace. ChiRunning emphasises this. Try running very slowly at 180 cadence them speed up by leaning your aligned body from relaxed ankles and allowing your stride to open up behind keeping the same cadence. When I demo and teach this people often have an ‘Ah-ah’ moment.

    • Thanks for the comment Gray. Although I disagree.

      If speed/pace is a result of Stride Length x Cadence… When it comes to increasing speed/pace, both stride length and and cadence need to increase. The converse can be said for decreasing pace (reduced stride length and cadence).

      With endurance athletes wanting to develop both speed and efficiency, I find that the most important cadence related factors are:

      1) Limiting how far the cadence decreases when running at easy/steady paces, thus reducing over-striding.

      2) Making sure that as speed/pace increases, this is being achieved by increasing both cadence and stride length together appropriately, rather than predominantly stride length (as is common), again reducing the tendency to over-stride.

      Of course as you know, none of this exists in isolation; posture, mobility, strength, muscle balance, etc… are all key factors too.

      I find the principals of ChiRunning way too prescriptive in teaching 180 strides per minute as a magic number for all runners to aspire to. Everybody is different.

      Here’s a great post from Steve Magness that would be well worth reading:

      http://www.scienceofrunning.com/2011/02/180-isnt-magic-number-stride-rate-and.html

      And another from Pete Larson:

      http://www.runblogger.com/2011/09/running-speed-human-variability-and.html

  • [...] The rate at which you turn your legs over (cadence, measured in strides per minute) is intrinsically linked to stride length. An incredibly powerful way to reduce overstriding tendencies at a given running pace is to raise your cadence. To hit the ground more times in the minute, for the same running speed, means that you must be making shorter strides, and staying in contact with the ground for a shorter time. As such, you’ll be creating less in terms of braking forces with each contact. Learn more. [...]

  • 180 has always been a guide,I have taped and counted runners stride rates since the 80′s and have noted rates for most runners these days (heel strikers and fore foot) to be between 150/168.
    When I was competing in the 80s/90s I hardly ever witnessed slow cadence (under 170),is it becoming more common?

    Bad coaching cue.. Lean from the ankles as a cue will result in runners bending at the waist.

    Keep up the good work James,

    Mark,

    Good form is not just for elites.

    • Thanks for commenting Mark.

      Really interesting to hear your longer-term feedback about measuring cadence of runners from the 1980s onwards. I’m merely a young pup in coaching terms! Thus I can only comment on what I’ve noticed in recent years :)

      I’d definitely echo your sentiments, and agree that many so sub-elite distance runners these days run with slower than optimal cadence, regardless of foot strike pattern. The range 150-168spm that you cite is not dissimilar to what I’ve observed in runners at a self selected “long run” pace.

      Re: “Leaning from the ankles“. I find it to be one of many cues which may, or may not, work on an athlete by athlete basis! Indeed, focusing on the lean alone will have little positive effect if posture, hip mobility etc isn’t sorted.

  • [...] can use it as a guide for your longer runs to ensure that you are keeping up. The running blog by Kinetic Revolution has some other suggestions about using a metronome (perhaps a smartphone app is the answer here; or [...]

  • Used a smartphone (BB) metronome 180 bpm for first time on long run (26K) Sunday. Also in new vivobarefoot shoes. Probably a mistake to change 2 things at once…as fatigued earlier than expected. Also, usually time of day was changed as was food…i was recently measured at 175-180 but never really used a task master for the long run. .I was quite pleased with overall workout that litterally kicked Butt! Looking forward to next workout!

  • I wrote a blog post a few years back, explaining how to use music as a metronome for running.

    It seems the free software I mentioned on that post is not available anymore, but the principle remains. Check it out at:
    http://pe-lado.blogspot.com.br/2010/10/pacemaker.html

    • I use an iOS app called trailmix (http://www.trailmixapp.com/) which is free with an option to purchase to remove ad’s. It can analyze your cadence and play your music at that speed without changing the pitch. It can also be set to a particular cadence and your music will play at that speed. Both of these features are great for finding your starting point and moving up slowly (5 to 10%) until you’re hitting the desired higher rate. Only a very few songs don’t work out very well and that’s usually because I’m so used to them playing at the original speed. Typically I can’t even tell anything was modified other than the fact I’m running faster and my stride is shorter. I’ve used this for several months and feel very comfortable at 170 to 180 depending on if I’m running an easy run or a fast near race pace run. I have found some podcast music stating the bpm and found them to be a nice way to integrate into running apps that don’t allow external music sources… Motion Traxx is a nice one if you like house music.

      -Norm

  • If you want to get your cadence higher and you listen to music while you run try some of the old surf rock music. Most of it has a beat a bit higher then 180. For example try these songs:
    Bustin Surfboards by The Tornadoes. Rumble by Link Ray. Jack The Ripper by The Mustangs. Misirlou by Dick Dale. Your “gonna have fun, fun, fun”

  • […] More info on running cadence can be found here. […]

  • […] More info on running cadence can be found here. […]

  • […] De siger i videoen at kadence er det vigtigste værktøj til at få en god løbeøkonomi. De siger at kadencen skal være 180 skridt i minuttet. Der er meget snak om den optimale kadence, men der er endnu ikke evidens for at der skulle findes én optimal kadence (kilde 1, kilde 2, kilde 3, kilde 4, kilde 5, kilde 6, kilde 7). […]

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