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Why you should be increasing your running cadence

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There’s no secret magic formula to becoming a better runner. Only progressive, consistent training and proper recovery will see you get faster and fitter. When it comes to running, there’s one key element that leads to better performance, lowers the risk of injury but is often overlooked: cadence. In this article, training expert Florian Nock discusses what it means to find the right running cadence.

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Back to basics: what is cadence?

Cadence (or stride-rate) is the number of steps you take per minute whilst running. In other words, it is the number of times your feet strike the ground in one minute.

What is the ideal cadence?

Generally speaking, 180 strides per minute (SPM) is often cited as the target every runner should aim for. However, naturally, every athlete is different; depending on your build, your natural cadence and your fitness level, you should aim for 170 to 190 SPM.

How to measure your cadence?

There are many ways in which to measure your cadence. Many running watches and fitness apps can measure cadence by analyzing the movement and momentum of your arms and legs. However, just as accurate is simply counting your steps.

Once you’ve reached your natural cadence, count how many times your right foot strikes the ground in a 30 second period. Then, multiply this number by 4 to get your cadence. For more accurate results, do this three or four times to find an average. For example, if you recorded an average of 42 steps during 30 seconds, your cadence is 168 strides per minute.

Why increase cadence?

Running is a sport of repetitive impact, so every step counts. If your cadence is too low, it means that you're taking longer strides or over-striding. When you over-stride, your heel touches the ground first, and your knee is in a locked position. This can lead to overstress on your knee joint, which can ultimately lead to injury.

Improving your cadence can also help improve your performance. If you reduce the length of your strides, you'll spend less time in the air. With smaller steps you'll waste less energy on unnecessary vertical jumps.

When considering cadence, remember this equation:

Running speed = Cadence X Stride length

Increasing cadence therefore increases speed - simple!

How to improve your cadence

3 to 4 steps at a time

As with all training methods, increasing your cadence should be done one step at a time. Once you’ve calculated your current running cadence, aim to increase it by 5% each 2 to 4 weeks until you reach the optimal 170 to 190 SPM range. This equates to only 3 or 4 more steps per minute - doable, right?

Use a metronome

Set up a metronome at 180 BPM on your phone and try to keep to the rhythm for as long as possible. In the beginning, it might feel impossible, but after a while, you’ll become attuned to the pace.

Break it down

Switching between your current cadence and your target is an effective way to progress. Set special training sessions once or twice per week in which you alternate every 3 minutes between your current cadence and the cadence you want to reach. Over time, you’ll find that your natural cadence becomes closer and closer to your goal.

Let’s recap:

Sometimes, smaller steps are more effective in getting you closer to your goals and that’s certainly the case when it comes to running cadence. Put this advice into practice today and see the results tomorrow.