A blog by runners. For runners.

Why cadence matters (and what it is exactly)


Spectating at a race, you can see runners of all ages, speeds, and sizes. Leading the pack, you often see runners who glide across the pavement, gazelle-like runners who “makes it look easy.” It’s easy to think great runners are born — in some cases, this is true, but our ability to run is inherent; it’s in our genetic makeup. Running is a skill, and skills can be sharpened; what was once hard can be made to look and feel effortless with attention to form and cadence, the rhythmic flow of our bodies when running.

When you watch a cyclist ascend a challenging hill, you’ll notice him adjust his gears to maximize his efficiency. Too high a gear and his cadence will be too slow; it will require too much force to create a full revolution of the wheel. Too low a gear and the force to revolve the wheel will be too low; he will pedal rapidly with little pay-off.

Unlike cyclists, runners do not need to adjust cadence as often or at all. Instead, runners logging 9:00 minute miles should be able to maintain the same cadence at 8:00 minute miles, or even at 7:00 minute miles. They should also be able to maintain the same cadence on flat or sloped terrain.

The 60 second test:

  • Lace up your shoes.
  • Cue your watch.
  • Run down the street for 60 seconds.
  • Count the number of steps you take with your dominant foot.
  • Turn around and count again on your return trip for consistency’s sake.
  • Multiply this number by two; this number is your cadence, the number of steps you take per minute.

I first came across the importance of cadence while reading Daniels’ Running Formula. Decorated coach, Jack Daniels, found, after significant studies, that most elite athletes, regardless of age, sex, or running speed, take about 180 steps per minute; that’s about 90 steps per foot.

Back to your test:

If your number was well below 180 — perhaps 140 to 160 — you may need to shake two bad habits that lead to injury.

  • Over-striding — your foot lands well in front of your body rather than beneath your hip.
  • Bouncing — your body moves too much in a vertical direction.

What goes up must come down and the more time you spend airborne, the more force your body will absorb on impact. An increase in cadence leads to a decrease in impact forces, which will help you become more efficient in transferring energy, delaying muscle fatigue, and avoiding injury.

What’s the best way to improve your cadence?


Remember: running is a skill. Set aside a few minutes during each run to test your cadence. Measure it at the beginning, mid-point, and end of each run. Measure it when you feel sluggish. Measure it when you speed up during a fartlek or tempo session. With time, you will reach the magic number, and with time, what was once hard will feel and look effortless.

Written by Stephen Marcin.