The Magic Number for Runners
By Jimmy Williams, PT, DPT
What is cadence? Cadence, simply put, is the number of steps that you take in one minute. Now if you bring up the word “cadence” in relation to running, people will immediately tell you that it should be 180 steps per minute. There have been previous studies and books (Jack Daniels’ Running Formula) that show that elite runners have an average step rate or cadence around 180 steps per minute during both competition and easier training runs.
There are numerous factors that can lead to an individual’s cadence but most runners should strive to hit at least 170 steps per minute. The research is pretty concrete and shows that having a cadence less than 170 steps per minute can increase a runner’s risk of overuse type injuries such as calf strains, IT band pain and runner’s knee. The reason being is that every time our foot hits the ground there is 3-6x our body weight being put down via gravity that we have to absorb and then push off again. If we take more steps in a given minute then we are reducing the total force per step on our bones, tendons, muscles and ligaments.
Try this: jog in place with a really slow cadence, almost bouncing from one foot to the other. Now jog in place quicker with faster feet. You should notice that with a faster cadence, it feels more smooth and it is much more quiet. This is because forces are being dispersed more efficiently and the transition from one foot to the next is so quick that you are using your tendons to absorb & transmit force rather than load up the other structures, like a spring.
If you are unsure of what your cadence is, most smart watches can track this via arm swing which is quite reliable. Without one, you can try to count how many steps you take in a minute (I personally can’t count that fast though).
If you are looking to increase your cadence, I like to recommend drills beforehand (jogging in place, skips, quick feet) as well as listening to a metronome on your easy runs or music that is at a beat > 170.
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Now remember, you can increase your cadence without increasing your pace. If you are struggling to increase cadence without increasing your pace, it is a good idea to speak to a running coach or your local running physical therapist to help work on this and decrease your risk of running related injuries.
Looking for more running tips as it relates to your own running mechanics? Consider having a gait analysis done by one of our expert PTs. You’ll receive a full gait analysis & movement assessment along with the complete report and recommendations on how to improve as it relates to your own running form. Give us a call to schedule or fill out this form.