Running - cadence

Sorry, no diabetes here. Just some running talk and discussion on the “ideal” cadence, which is actually different for everyone…

First of all, what is running cadence? That’s the number of steps per minute (SPM). It is also called stride rate (SR).

Basically, your speed comes down to the number of steps you are taking and how long each step is. That is the simplest way of boiling it all down.

For this discussion, we could get overly technical, and discuss why things like mechanical power and metabolic power do not equal each other, because energy gets absorbed when your foot hits the ground and also when it pushes off. And there are many other factors - like leg spring stiffness, vertical oscillation, ground contact time, vertical ratio, flight time, pronation angle, braking force, transverse hip rotation, and on and on…

But let’s keep it simple and just focus on stride rate (SR) and stride length (SL).

The length of each step X how often you take each step is your speed.

SL x SR = speed

Some people may tell you that 180 SPM is what you should have. There has been a recent wave of commentary telling people to strive for 180. That 180 is the magic number because that is what the Olympians have.

But that is not correct.

To start with, the 180 figure came from a study by running coach Dr. Jack Daniels during the 1984 Olympics. For any running event for a distance of 800 meters and longer, almost every single Olympic athlete had a SR of greater than 180.

So of course people took that to mean that everyone should hit a cadence of 180 or more. But that is not understanding the entire picture. There is a lot they are missing.

Why is there not one cadence that is right for everyone?

Think about running a short distance with a ridiculously high cadence, such as 250 steps per minute. Now think about running the same distance and taking very few steps, but each step is extremely long, like hopping from one foot to the other.

Compare what would feel tired afterwards. In the first example, your heart would be racing. In the second example, your legs would be dead.

There is a trade-off between higher and lower cadence. At a higher cadence, there is a greater cardiovascular demand but less metabolic fatigue - the reduced ability of the muscle fibers to contract.

At a higher cadence, there is also a corresponding shorter stride length (SL), and therefore less braking from each foot strike.

At a lower cadence, there is less cardiovascular fatigue but higher musculoskeletal stress, and therefore a quicker onset of metabolic fatigue.

A stride is comprised of the anterior portion (moving your leg forward) and the the posterior portion (moving your leg backward). A higher cadence means a shorter stride, and that equates to having a much shorter anterior portion of your stride. Having a longer stride (lower cadence) will generally mean longer on both anterior and posterior.

A longer anterior stride ends up causing greater stress on hamstrings and more braking forces. Landing with your foot in front of your hips causes more braking compared to landing with your foot directly below your hips. A longer stride means less efficient running economy and greater reaction forces with the ground surface. Also a longer anterior stride means you are using your glutes less.

And the bottom line for cadence - the elite runners in the Olympics have better cardiovascular fitness than the rest of us. So their ideal cadence is not the same as for the rest of us. Their hearts can handle a higher cadence.

Another reason there is not a single perfect cadence for everyone has to do with our leg mass.

If a runner has larger and heavier calves, it will take more force to move the legs than it would for a runner who has lighter calves. In general, a runner with bigger calves will have a lower cadence than a comparable runner who has heavier thighs and lighter calves, because the calves are farther from the point of revolution - the hips. (That’s why you wear light shoes!)

Here is a summary of the general ideas I am trying to share.

  • Having a higher cadence is generally better when a runner is comparing it to their own lower cadence. Two different runners comparing cadence is not really relevant.

  • The magical number of 180 has more to do with performance. It is not something that needs to be the specific target for all runners. It can be used as a comparison figure, but not an absolute. The correct cadence will be different for everyone based on a multitude of factors such as fitness level, mechanics, and leg mass.

  • Since there is no exact number everyone should try to achieve, just compare your cadence at the beginning of the run with the cadence at the end, and try to maintain it. Over time, work to increase it.

  • Form should always be the first consideration (particularly, landing below your hips instead of in front of your hips). Before working on developing a higher cadence, make sure your form is correct, then work on cadence. Over time, work on developing a higher cadence compared to your current one, but make sure you have proper form first.

  • A higher cadence requires higher cardiovascular fitness, so that is something that needs to be developed over time for long runs. If you try to do the same exact run as far as distance and pace, and just increase your cadence in one day, you will be left frustrated.



Haven’t actually read your post—just a preemptive heart because you’ve turned me into a cadence-counting fool, and I’m thrilled to see some good Eric-info on it. :hugs:

And now I’ll go read…

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Trying to figure out what metabolic fatigue might actually feel like when I’m running. I have noticed that with a lower cadence, my breathing falls apart, and I’m working harder overall. When I start to feel that kind of tired, I’ll do a cadence check. Just knowing I’m going to count it fixes it almost immediately. I assumed it was because it was kind of a straightening up in my seat kind of thing. Maybe not though…

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That’s where the Jack Daniels part comes in… (not really, just goofin!)

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You mean… to make determining what metabolic fatigue feels like easier…or to make me no longer worry about what metabolic fatigue feels like? :thinking:

Sure! I like your answers better than mine anyways. :crazy_face:

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Can you do pushups? Like 20? or 50? Or 100? That’s an easy way to feel it. If you do as many as you can until you can’t do any more - your arms won’t move anymore - that is metabolic fatigue.

You won’t generally get there with endurance running unless it is a race or a shorter event. Long before you reach that point in running your body will quit because of several other things.

There are many limiting factors in endurance exercise. Metabolic fatigue is only one of them. There is also muscular fatigue, aerobic capacity, maximum oxygen uptake, energy depletion (muscle glycogen), mentality, many cardiac and pulmonary factors like pulmonary diffusion, cardiac output, blood volume, hemoglobin, mitochondria, etc. And probably a bunch more factors I am not thinking of.

Maybe we should we do a different thread sometime on some of those other things?


I only recognize mentality from that list. That one I know well and understand fully, but for the rest,

Yes, please.

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Okay, but let’s finish chewing up cadence a bit first.


Which means I’ll try to finish the reading now…

Which brings me back to my question though… why does increasing my cadence feel like it lightens the workload? It sounds like it should be the opposite??

There is a tradeoff between cardio and muscle effort. And there is a sweet-spot you are looking for. If increasing the cadence feels like it makes the run easier, than your cadence is not too high yet.

At some point when cadence gets too high, it won’t feel like it decreases workload. At some point, increasing the cadence will make your heart work much harder, while your muscles are practically doing nothing. If your legs are taking 2 inch strides, there isn’t any work for them, it’s easy. But your heart would be saying, WTH?

If you want to see this, try running a mile (at any pace) with a cadence of 200. See how that feels! And then you will think, “This cadence did NOT lighten the workload!”

I think that will help you see the tradeoff.