What is a Good Running Cadence? Running Cadence Explained

asics Novablast 4 Lifestyle on foot running

To most recreational runners, athletes, or walkers, the act of running may seem pretty straightforward. After all, all you have to think about is moving your body forward, right? 

Running is one of the more innate sports out there. But there are actually a lot more factors that go into it than you might expect. If you’ve ever heard runners talk about cadence or form, they’re referring to some of the key foundational components of any run. 

Understanding and working on your cadence can help you run faster, improve your performance, and decrease the risk of injury. We’ve put together a quick guide to help you understand what running cadence is, why it’s so important, and some key steps you can take to work on your cadence.

Keep reading to learn more about running cadence and how walkers, casual runners, and elite athletes alike can improve their cadence and see a positive impact on performance. 

So, What is Running Cadence?

Simply put, running cadence is the number of steps you take per minute. You may also hear cadence referred to as stride length, stride rate, turnover, or stride frequency. 

Measured in steps per minute (SPM), running cadence is a crucial factor in determining your pace, efficiency on runs, and ability to stay pain-free. 

Luckily, it’s so easy to determine your running cadence: 

  1. Find a flat and even stretch of running terrain
  2. Set a one-minute timer
  3. Start running at your usual, preferred running pace
  4. As you run, count the number of times one foot strikes the ground
  5. At the end of 60 seconds, multiply that number by two and you have your usual running cadence!

Today, a huge range of watches and smartphone tools can also help measure your running cadence. 

The Importance of Running Cadence

Tracking your running cadence and working to improve it can take some time. So why is it so important, and is it even worth trying to improve? 

Whether you’re just starting out as a runner or have years of experience under your belt, cadence is worth taking into account during your training. Research on running cadence has continuously shown that it can drive massive benefits for runners of all skill and experience levels. 

Here are just a few ways working on running cadence might be able to benefit you and your runs. 

Injury Prevention

If you’re new to the running world, you might have seen lots of online posts and heard endless discussions about the “correct” running gait to improve your runs and decrease the likelihood of injury. 

The truth is, every runner is so different, and there’s no perfect “one-size-fits-all” running form. But if you’re looking for an easy and effective modification to your form, building a higher running cadence is a great option to help reduce impact and prevent overuse injuries. 

Overstriding changes your position when you strike the ground, creating more pressure and force on your knees, hips, ankles, and entire body. Adjusting your stride and improving your cadence can significantly decrease the chance of impact-related injuries, even in as little as a few weeks. 

Running Efficiency

When working on building distance, cadence can be a fantastic tool to help reduce fatigue and create more energy-efficient runs. 

With a lower cadence, your foot spends more time in contact with the ground, creating more pressure and quickly leading to fatigue and exhaustion on training runs. When you overstride, you also use up more energy to move your body forward. 

That’s why, no matter what distance you’re training for, cadence is a key aspect of becoming a more economical and efficient runner. And when you don’t have to worry about fatigue on a run, you can truly focus on seeing results and putting in the miles. 

Improved Performance

Cadence isn’t just something for casual and beginner runners to consider. If you’re trying to PR at your next race or enjoy smoother training runs, cadence is a key factor. 

Cadence and stride length are the two biggest determinants when it comes to a runner’s speed. As you decrease the impact on your joints and use less energy in each stride, you’ll be able to start moving faster and optimizing each performance. So if you focus on cadence and work on incorporating shorter, faster steps into your runs, you’ll likely see some natural performance and speed benefits. 

What is a Good Running Cadence?

If you’ve ever read up on running cadence, you’ve likely seen 180 SPM thrown around as the ideal cadence to aim for. Popularized after the 1984 Olympics by running coach Jack Daniels, 180 SPM quickly became a fixed cadence standard for runners to strive towards. 

However, like so many other factors of running, there’s no set number that’s perfect for every runner. Runners should get a baseline of their running cadence, and work on improving from that number over time. 

Typically, the range of “good” running cadence starts at around 170 SPM and extends to around 190 SPM. But every runner is different, so make sure to measure your initial SPM and work on increasing that number by about 5-10%. 

There are also several factors to consider when determining if you’re at the right running cadence for you. Here are a few considerations that may play a role in your cadence: 

  • Height – Taller runners typically take longer strides and therefore have a lower natural running cadence
  • Terrain – Where you run also plays a major role in your cadence. Running uphills typically increases your cadence, while longer strides on downhills typically feel more natural and preserve energy.
  • Footwear – Finding the proper footwear for runs will help guide you through your stride and improve your turnover and cadence.
  • Type of Run – Most runners will likely have a different base cadence for different types of runs. While tempo runs or workouts may require a higher cadence for optimal performance, slower distance runs will likely have a lower baseline. 

With several different factors impacting your cadence, there’s no one magic cadence that works for every single runner. Once you determine your starting cadence, you can easily measure cadence changes and see the improvement over time. 

How Does a Runner Improve Cadence?

Now you know what cadence is, why it’s so important for runners, and what factors may impact the number of steps you take per minute. But how do you go about making these changes? 

Use a Beat as the Backdrop of Your Run

If you use headphones on runs, one of the best ways to improve your cadence is by running to a specific beat. 

You can download a metronome app and set the beat to a number slightly higher than your baseline. You can even find lists of songs with a beat of 170-190 BPM to help you find the right tempo on your runs.

Focus on Running Posture

When you start getting tired on a run, you might start to forget about proper running form and begin overstriding, leading to a lower cadence. 

As difficult as it might seem while you’re fatigued on a run, try to think about your posture and focus on taking smaller steps. A treadmill is also a fantastic controlled environment to work on posture and improve your cadence. 

Add Strides to Your Running Routine

Strides are a great way to focus on your form and cadence. At the end of a training run, try adding 6-10 short strides to your routine, focusing solely on your steps and improving your running form. 

You can also incorporate several faster cadence intervals in the middle of a regular run. Over time, this specific cadence training will become ingrained in your running form and muscle memory, and you’ll naturally improve your cadence over each run. 

Think About Your Arms

With all the talk about cadence and footstrike, many runners tend to forget about the importance of your upper body on a run. 

The rate at which you swing your arms during a run directly influences your turnover rate. When you move your arms quicker, your legs – and a faster cadence – will naturally follow. 

Running Cadence: The Bottom Line

No matter how long you’ve been running, your preferred distance, or running speed, cadence is an important aspect of the sport. Understanding and improving running cadence can have a positive impact on nearly every runner, regardless of their performance, experience, or skill level. 

From staying injury-free to watching your race times drop, there are so many different benefits that come from increasing your cadence and working on turnover. 
Once you’ve looked through this guide, you should have the tools and knowledge to measure your cadence and start working on improving it. But if you have any questions, Marathon Sports has a qualified team of experts ready to help. Stop by any of our locations today to learn more and make sure you have everything you need for the most efficient, pain-free runs possible!