Why You Should Increase Your Running Cadence (And What Steps To Take)

Running is pretty straightforward, and you might think that not much goes into it, you simply…run. But you might actually be surprised by the fact that running also requires some proper form and technique, in order to be done properly!

In fact, running the “wrong” way can not only hinder your progress, speed, and endurance but also lead to a higher risk of injury and damage! 

One of the main recommendations, in order to run in a better and safer way, is to increase your cadence, and this is a piece of advice that you will have likely come across if you are in the world of running and sports.

But…why should you increase your running cadence? In fact, what even is the running cadence? 

Well, don’t worry. We’re going to explain exactly what running cadence is, and why you should increase it. Plus, we’re going to give you plenty of tips on how to do so, and a goal to aim for.

If that sounds like something that you’re interested in, then welcome, and keep on reading! 

What Is Running Cadence?

Let’s start by talking about what running cadence is exactly, just in case you’re not quite sure. 

Put simply, your running cadence is essentially just the amount of steps that you take per minute, while you are running. So cadence is usually measured by the number of exact steps you have taken in a minute, abbreviated as SPM (steps per minute). 

It’s simple enough. However, that’s not all that cadence is, there is more to it. 

Cadence is also about enhancing certain benefits that come with taking more steps per minute while you run.

This is because a higher cadence causes your body to adjust to different biomechanical movements, and these small changes in movement are what make your running better and more efficient, for better overall performance that is healthier and safer. 

In fact, a better cadence helps in two main ways, while you run: in the running form itself, and in reducing the risk of injury. 

Let’s take a look at both aspects: 

Running Cadence And The Running Form

Okay, so the more steps that you take per minute, the more you are going to have to adapt your movements, and this means that you will gradually end up changing the position in which your feet land on the floor, with every step.

The higher the cadence, the shorter the strides, so your feet will be landing right under your center of mass, rather than being stretched forward or backward. Does that make sense?

Basically, if you are taking more steps, they’re going to be shorter and quicker, rather than fewer steps that are longer but slower. 

This is actually incredibly beneficial because when your feet are landing right under the center of your body mass, you are decreasing the risk of overstriding.

(Overstriding is when your stride is too long, which causes an increased impact on the feet, and a higher chance of ending up with an injury).

In fact, specialists will use cadence manipulation training on athletes to ensure that they have a centered stride, instead of one that is too long, in order to improve their performance, and a higher cadence is what accomplishes this. 

Also, shorter strides (thanks to a higher cadence), will correct your body’s form, in that you won’t move up and down as much when you run. This leads to saving some precious energy so that you can run all the better! 

Running Cadence And Risk Of Injury

The better your running cadence is, the lesser the risk of injury, which is why it is so important to train and develop an optimal cadence in your running. It will improve your performance, and keep you safe. It’s a win-win! 

With a higher cadence, your movements and positions will be corrected, and one of the main beneficial consequences of this is that there will be less of an impact on your feet when they land on the ground.

It might not seem like this is a big deal, but with the number of steps you end up taking, while running a decent distance, the force can end up causing a lot of stress on your feet, possibly damaging them!

The less impact, the less your feet suffer, and the less risk of them becoming damaged. Simple enough! 

Another thing to consider is that with a higher cadence there is less vertical oscillation (less of them bouncing up and down as you run).

Again, it seems like not much of a deal, but the higher you bounce upwards, the harder you are going to land when you come down, and again, this can impact your feet greatly, plus it could also end up damaging your skeletal system.

With a reduced vertical oscillation, this is less of a problem, and so you are safer from possible injury. Not to mention that your knee joints will be very grateful for the lessened impact too! 

Basically, a higher cadence improves your movement and positioning, and overall reduces the risk of injury, and this is vital for professional runners that are going to be running practically full-time. 

How To Calculate Your Running Cadence

Before we get into what your running cadence should be, ideally, in order for you to run with the best form possible, it is worth teaching you how to actually calculate your personal running cadence.

That way you will know where you stand and will know how much you need to correct your cadence, leading into how to do it. 

The good news is that calculating your running cadence is incredibly easy, as it is just the number of steps that you take in a minute while running.

And no, you don’t need to spend an entire minute counting your steps as you run…instead you just have to count for 30 seconds, and then multiply by two! It makes it slightly easier, as there is less of a chance to lose count. 

So to calculate your running cadence you do the following:

  1. First of all, warm up. Run for a few minutes, until you get into your usual rhythm. (This is so that you are calculating a more accurate running cadence, and not just your warming up cadence). 
  2. With a stopwatch or similar, get ready to use a timer for 30 seconds. 
  3. When the 30 seconds start, run as normal while you count your steps. You should be counting one step for every time one of your feet hits the ground. (So you choose either your left foot, or your right foot, and you count every time that foot hits the ground). 
  4. After the 30 seconds have passed, multiply the number of steps you got, by two. (In order to get the results for what would be a full minute). 
  5. And that’s it, you have your running cadence!

If you prefer, you could simply just count your steps for a full minute. But again, doing it for 30 seconds and then doubling the number is a lot more practical. 

What Is The Most Optimal Running Cadence?

Once you have calculated your personal running cadence, you will start to wonder whether it is the optimal cadence, or whether you should be training to improve it, by increasing its value. 

First of all, disclaimer: there is no specific cadence rate that is the optimal value for all. So there is no specific cadence that we are going to tell you to aim for, mainly because it is unique to each individual, and we cannot possibly generalize with “an ideal cadence”. 

Instead, we will tell you that the recommended standard of running cadence should be somewhere between 170 and 180 SPM. Or at the very least, that is what Bryan Heiderscheit, an important cadence researcher, states. 

However, as a general rule, increasing your cadence, whatever it may be, by 5 to 10 steps per minute, will already make a huge difference to your running form and performance. So sometimes, it’s not about reaching the recommended value, it is about simply improving what yours is, even if just by a little. 

The main thing is that you understand that a higher cadence is always going to be better (unless your running cadence is unusually high, as in, super high to a weird level). 

A lot of professional athletes actually aim for the higher end of the recommended running cadence, claiming that 180 SPM is the ideal people should strive for. But again, everybody is different, and there isn’t a one-cadence to fit them all. 

Some of the things that are going to affect your personal “ideal” running cadence are as follows:

  • Your running speed (this affects how long the strides are and how often you are taking them)
  • Your height (this affects how long your legs are, and how many strides you will need to cover a certain amount of distance) 
  • Your muscle fiber and body type
  • The terrain you are running on

And many more! Honestly, there are a lot of factors related to the running cadence of an individual. 

The main takeaway is that the recommended optimal running cadence is between 170 and 180 SPM, but that you should adapt that to your own usual cadence. And if anything, you can improve your running by just slightly increasing your average running cadence. 

Tips For Improving Your Running Cadence

We have already established that improving your cadence can have great benefits on your running form and performance, as well as significantly reducing the risk of injury or damage done to your body as you run, therefore keeping you healthier and safer. 

And when we talk about improving your running cadence, we are usually referring to increasing it by a small value, even if just by 5 to 10 steps per minute. So you will be taking more steps, in shorter strides. 

But how do you do that, in a practical way? How do you make sure you are doing it right? 

Like most things in life, it is going to take practice, so please be patient. You will not get results right away, and at first, it is probably going to feel weird to change the speed at which you take steps, especially as it will shift your natural and usual stride. 

It is important to train your cadence slowly and gradually, so that your body and movements have time to adjust, without accidentally causing you injury or harm. 

To help you out,  we’re going to give you some helpful tips that can be completely game-changing when used correctly. Here we go!

Increasing Your Running Cadence, Gradually

The main, and most straightforward way, of increasing your running cadence in order to improve it, is by doing the obvious: gradually increasing the number of steps you take per minute, while you run. But here’s the thing, it isn’t actually as easy as it sounds. 

The recommended way of slowly and safely increasing your running cadence is by adding around 2 to 4 steps per minute every week, or every other week. It’s just a little, but it means you are changing your stride at a sure and steady pace, allowing your body the time to get used to it so that it becomes the new comfortable pattern.

Besides, it takes quite a lot of focus to increase your cadence when you first start out! 

Make sure not to increase your running cadence too quickly, and definitely no more than 5 steps per minute every week. Also, it might be a good idea to set specific goals, so that you can stick to a timetable, which will give you structure.

This helps with sticking to the slow progress, and stops you from the temptation of taking bigger leaps! 

Using Metronomes And/Or Specific Beats

If you find that you struggle with increasing your cadence, whether because you lose focus easily, you lose count, or you’re simply struggling to adjust to the new pattern, then we highly recommend using a metronome, or using a specific beat.

This is actually one of the most popular methods of increasing the running cadence, and many athletes use it! 

It consists of running to a specific consistent tempo, and you can get that from a metronome, or from the right kind of music. You could even curate a playlist of songs to the right tempo if you wanted!

Then, you simply run by matching your steps to the beat, and this will automatically get you into the cadence you are aiming for (as long as the beat is right). 

There are plenty of metronome apps that you can download for this, and you can also search for songs with a specific tempo, and you could find pre-made playlists online for the specific running cadence you are after.

These will be especially useful in short bursts of training, so in short, distance runs that last a few minutes each.

You can also practice switching between a walking pace, into the running cadence you are aiming for, with the help of the auditory beat that you have in place, to train your body to go into it in a more natural manner.

Practicing With The Use Of A Treadmill

When you start your running cadence training, you will very quickly realize what we meant by it not being easy.

It takes focus and willpower to keep adjusting your movements and speed to be within that running cadence you are aiming for, and it takes a lot of patience to keep trying, gradually increasing the cadence, until you reach the ideal value. 

A very good tip, that we always like to recommend, is having some training sessions on a running treadmill. And the reason is simple.

When you are out on a run, somewhere where you might come across other people, or animals, or roads, it is a lot harder to maintain full focus on the number of steps that you are taking per minute.

There are too many distractions, and you have to remain aware of your surroundings, which puts you at a disadvantage. On an indoor running treadmill, however, it is just you and the running.

No need to look where you are going, since you’re static, and no need to be aware of any of your surroundings. You can fully focus on the steps per minute, and on maintaining the desired cadence until it becomes second nature. 

If you’re not a fan of running on a treadmill, which is perfectly okay, then at the very least we recommend trying a few short sessions. Otherwise, just make sure to do your running somewhere with as few distractions as possible so that you can safely concentrate on the training. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Just in case you’re still unsure about some aspects of the running cadence, we’ve answered a few of the most commonly asked questions. Here they are: 

What Is A Good Running Cadence For Beginners?

Regardless of your level in running, the optimal cadence for everyone is between 170 and 180 steps per minute, with 180 SPM being the goal you should aim for.

However, each individual will have their own average running cadence, and a good cadence for beginners is to increase upon your base by 5 to 10 steps per minute. 

Can Your Running Cadence Be Too High?

If your running cadence is unusually high, to a very big amount, then this is not good. You need your cadence to be high, but within a normal limit that suits your strides and natural movements, otherwise, you will be hindered. 

How Do I Increase My Running Cadence?

In order to increase your running cadence, you have to increase the number of steps that you take per minute while running. You should do this very slowly and gradually, so as to not injure yourself, allowing for your body to adjust to the new pattern of movements and stride. 

We have already given a few tips on how best to increase your running cadence, so you can go back and read through them if you would like! 

What Is Usain Bolt’s Cadence? 

Usain Bolt is the fastest man in the world, and as such, he’s got the running aspect pretty much mastered. You might be wondering, out of curiosity, what his running cadence is, so we’re going to break it down! 

His average angle in the 100m run within the 9.58 seconds he can do it in, is 18.5 degrees. This gives him an average step frequency of around 4.28 steps per second, which equals an astounding running cadence of around 257 steps per minute! 

Final Thoughts

So…why should you increase your running cadence? At the end of the day, it comes down to two main reasons: improving your running form (and therefore your overall running performance), and reducing the risk of getting injured while running. 

To increase your running cadence, you need to increase the number of steps that you take per minute, as you run, and there are many ways to do this, but the most important thing to remember is to do so gradually. 

Matt Williams