Next Race: Rotterdam Marathon 7th April 2019

Running Cadence: Research & Metronomes

One of the most common running technique flaws we see in runners across all levels is the tendency to overstride. This create an excessive braking force when their foot strikes the ground too far ahead of their centre of mass. This is usually due in part to running with too slow of a running cadence for the given pace.

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.

Running Cadence Definition

Before we go any further, it’s worth quickly answering the question: “what does cadence mean in running terms?”

  • Cadence is essentially another word for stride frequency, step rate or revolutions per minute of the running stride. Usually measured in steps per minute.

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 should specifically be looking to achieve to stop themselves from overstriding.

A 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.

What does research tell us?

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.

All 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.

What does cadence mean in running?

Coaching Recommendations for Running Cadence

I 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. The research cited above from Heiderscheit et al. has 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% for a given speed. We know that any slight increase will be beneficial due to the reduction in overstriding!

How to Measure Your Running 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). You can then use a metronome to work on sustaining this rate of cadence as you fatigue. The tendency will be for cadence to naturally 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…!


  1. 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.

    1. 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:

      And another from Pete Larson:

      1. I took Danny Dreyer’s Chi seminar a few years ago and I asked him personally about the “magic” 180 SPM at slow, relaxed effort. He looked at me and said, “You’re tall, you should cut it back a little to maybe 178 SPM.” (I’m 5-11, not really all that tall). What’s worked for me, checking in periodically with a metronome, is 177 SPM for easy, recovery jog pace, 180 for “normal,” steady/long run pace, and 183+ for fast track work and racing 5Ks.

  2. 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,


    Good form is not just for elites.

    1. 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.

  3. 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!

    1. I use an iOS app called trailmix ( 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.


  4. 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”

  5. I recently tried this on a trail run and found the immediate results quite astounding. I immediately felt an increase in speed with less effort, particularly on the flat/ish terrain I was on. There was also a decrease in knee discomfort during and at the end although it was only a short run, I’ll test it on a more trying 10k on Tuesday. This also left me with more energy for the uphill sections, a must with the kind of running I like to do.

    Emphasis needs to be put on the fact that this is not a magic pill for runners looking to improve and will take time to perfect and get used to. As stated above increasing your cadence by small increments at a time, getting used to those adjustments and then increasing them again is the way forward. It is a big temptation to crank things right up from the start and risk getting no benefit, or worse still, injured, thus leaving you dissatisfied with the whole idea.

    I’ve downloaded YAM Metronome for my windows phone and will continue to change my cadence to 170 spm over the next few weeks. I’ll keep you posted.

    Great article, thank you very much.

  6. I run at *almost* the same cadence all the time, but of course if I’m consciously trying to slow down (such as with a slower runner or group) or if I’m focusing on speeding up (last km of a longer race) my cadence will certainly fluctuate. But if I’m at an easy or moderate perceived effort, no matter the terrain, I’m generally within a few steps of 180 🙂

  7. Thanks for the nice article James.
    Some people, like me, have naturally a high cadence. It doesn’t make sense to still try to increase this, does it? For example I ran a marathon @ 194 spm on average, 10k @196 and shorter distances I am frequently well above 200 spm. If I try to add 5% to that I end up with a ridiculously high cadence, and I don’t think that is sustainable for a long distance.
    I have no good perspective on my own form, but with this high cadence I assume I don’t overstride. Or is this a wrong assumption? To run faster I think I need to improve my stride length instead. But I do not want to end up overstriding. So I need to get additional length in my strides from behind, am I right? Wondering how I am gonna tackle that. Will your running technique program provide me with answers? I am unsure for I think I seriously need someone to look at my form, however your workshops are not around the corner for me.. Cheers

    1. Hi Tim, what I’m about to say has to be framed by saying that ‘I haven’t seen you run’…

      It sounds like you’re right in that cadence isn’t what you need to focus on. Rather, you need to teach your body how to find more stride length. Instead of thinking about flicking the leg back behind you, focus on picking your feel up under your butt, allowing the knee to lift a little higher than is currently ‘your normal’ for a given pace. Don’t force it though.

      I hope this helps.



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