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Cadence Fundamentals in Running

#running fatigue running biomechanics running coaches running economy running efficiency running footstrike triathlon Apr 25, 2024


Cadence, aka Step Rate or Leg Speed: why is it so important?

Firstly, it is the strongest correlate to running efficiency.

Secondly, there are two tenets of running efficiency: maximising propulsive forces, and minimising braking forces. In my opinion, the propulsive forces are less important than the braking forces, as higher braking forces mean the tissues are working harder to decelerate the mass of the body/absorb the ground reaction forces thereby bringing on fatigue quicker. And EVERYTHING we're doing here is to DELAY THE ONSET OF FATIGUE.

So when your cadence is low, PER FOOT STRIKE you are proportionately spending more time with your foot in contact with the ground. The longer, per foot strike, you are in contact with the ground, the more your tissues have to work. So, the goal is to get your foot on to the ground, spend as little amount of time necessary accepting the ground reaction forces (called the Absorption Phase) then propel you forward (Propulsive Phase), then get off again - quick smart. The tissues ultimately recover during swing phase.

Fundamentally, there is no one number we should all be running to.

90/180 does not work for everyone. Cadence is also speed sensitive (the faster you go, the higher your cadence), so firstly we're looking to improve your cadence from the number you’re at now (if deemed too low based on the Cadence Window below), at whatever TEMPO speed you're running at.

I work more off of a 'Cadence ‘Window':

152cm/5'0" - 167cm/5'5": 92-96
167cm/5'5" - 182cm/6'0": 88-94
182cm/6'0" - up: 82-88

Clearly, this is a VERY GENERALISED guideline, but what I'm attempting to show is cadence is mostly height sensitive. A 6'6" runner is not going to running at the same cadence (at the same speed) as a 5'2" runner.


If you don't have a sports watch or a Stryd that tells you your cadence, there is a very simple method to assess: using the countdown timer on your watch or phone, run at normal tempo on the flats. As one foot, let's say the right, touches the ground, start the timer. From this point count every time your right foot touches the ground within that 30sec period, then double the number: 44 = 88fpm.


1. Progressively increased cadence, to reduce loading on the tissues and to reduce the oxygen consumption at tempo.
2. Maintain this new cadence for the length of a run (not letting it drop off as you tire).



This particularly applies to taller people, but not exclusively: as you walk, do you take short fast steps, or do you stride out? If you stride out, and have a low leg speed, how can you expect your leg speed to be high when you're running? So the first thing to do is adopt a higher cadence in walking.


Without consciously going out and saying "I'm going to run at x cadence today", there are a couple of things you can do first that will increase your cadence unconsciously. Here comes
the broken record player, but it's pelvic tilt and a forward pelvic position. I test runners (of every level) and a highly recurring theme is to see a +/- 5% increase just by being more upright.

But if you're running at 84fpm, initially all we want to see is an increase in the range of 3-5% (2-4fpm). The reason being, by making large, wholesale changes to your cadence (going from 84 to 90) this can have a negative effect and cause overloading problems.

You may (or most likely will) notice a heart rate increase with the new cadence. This is quite normal, and the HR will adapt with time (quickly in conditioned runners). Once you’re back to your benchmark HR< then try and increase the cadence again. - if necessary.


New research has come out with this update, as cited by the highly respected Montana Running Lab.  You'll note it says to try and increase by 5-10%, which I am a fence-sitter on.  This seems a little too much for me, but I look fwd to hearing any feedback should you try this strategy. 


You can download one of these free metronome apps, calculate your new desired cadence (start at 3%) and run with your phone in your hand (I would normally never advise this, but we need the audio feedback). Run like this for a few minutes, then turn the app off and see if you can still sustain the cadence.

IOS: Metronome Pro - Beat and Tempo App
ANDROID: Metronome Beats App


As you can see here there are a plethora of bpm-specific playlists on Spotify.  The only real downside to this is they won't be mixed, which means there will be a gap between the songs therefore you will lose timing easily.


So next time you’re starting a run (as above, ideally on the flats) make a note of your cadence. This is your 'fresh cadence'. Towards the end of the run, especially if it’s a longer run (again on the flats)
make a note of your cadence. This is your ‘fatigue cadence’. In an ideal world they’re nearly identical.

If your cadence does change, then you have 2 potential goals to work towards:
1. Try and maintain current cadence the length of a run, and
2. If necessary via the Cadence Window, slowly start to increase your fresh cadence, and get to the point where point 1 above is applied.


If you struggle to get a good turnover off the bike, think about your cadence on the bike. We want it to match your running cadence. Also, do you think about pulling up on the bike? If you do: DON’T.

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