Updated: April 23, 2020
My running journey began in a rather conventional way. Someone I know wanted to try something new and signed up for a half marathon. I joined along, completing the miles on my training plan, never giving a second thought to details such as running cadence, stride, foot strike or form.
I had no idea what running cadence even meant.
Soon after, I started running more frequently, completing longer distances, and looking for future races. But after finishing my first marathon I found myself unable to bend my right leg the following day.
Unsure what was happening, I desperately tried to run through the pain until I eventually ended up in physical therapy.
Thus began my journey with chronic running injuries.
From this point on, I struggled with injuries throughout my training. I wound up in physical therapy two times in one year, spending 6 months of that year completing strengthening exercises with my doctor.
I couldn’t figure out what I was doing wrong – I ran consistently, took rest days, and stretched after every run.
What was I missing?
I finally started to take PT seriously the second time around. This time made me realize that if I didn’t change anything I might end up injured after every single race.
Over time, I learned what a running cadence was, what the ideal cadence is, and how to increase your running cadence. I humbly submitted to many treadmill runs in hopes of gradually improving my running cadence.
And it works.
I successfully increased my running cadence.
This simple change to my running technique has allowed me to remain injury free for the past seven years. Improving my running cadence has seen me through 6 marathons, 22 half marathons, and everything in between without injury.
How to Increase Your Running Cadence
It turns out that increasing your cadence works miracles when it comes to preventing injury and increasing your speed. Whether or not you struggle with the occasional runner’s knee, chronic injuries, or are just wanting to improve, every runner can benefit from taking the time to perfect their cadence.
What is a running cadence?
If you have a smart watch of any kind, you’ve likely seen the “cadence” statistic appear on your screen at the end of a run. With a culture so focused on distance and pace, it’s easy to ignore this statistic and miss out on the valuable insight you might be able to gain from it.
The term “running cadence” refers to the number of times your feet strike the ground over the course of one minute. Your cadence is the total number of foot strikes in 60 seconds, and is measured in beats per minute.
A common misconception that new runners have is that a higher cadence equates to a faster runner. While a higher cadence does mean that the runner is striking the ground more often, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they are running faster.
Depending on the length of your stride, your feet may come in contact with the ground very frequently or infrequently.
What is the “perfect” running cadence?
An ideal running cadence is 180 beats per minute.
This means that your feet come in contact with the ground 180 times each minute (90 strikes with your right foot, and 90 strikes with your left).
Determining your running cadence by counting your steps is nearly impossible, but luckily there are many tools we can use to easily discover and improve our running cadence. One of my favorites: a simple metronome app.
There are many free metronome apps on your phone, which you can download and use throughout your run. A metronome allows you to set the tempo to a variety of different speeds, and then gives you a consistent click at your designated tempo.
How do you increase your cadence using a metronome?
Since the ideal running cadence is 180 bpm, setting your metronome to 180 will give you a click each time your foot should strike the ground.
You’ll want to start the metronome at the beginning of your run, and continue playing throughout. You can play the metronome out loud or through headphones while you run.
For the most accurate results, you’ll want to spend the first few weeks running only on the treadmill. Running on the treadmill prevents you from accidentally lengthening your stride and speeding up when you first increase your cadence.
Set the treadmill speed to your normal pace, start your metronome, and get running. During your run, aim to match your foot strike with the clicks from the metronome. One foot should strike the ground each time you hear a click.
Working to improve your running cadence can feel quite tedious, especially during those first few runs.
If you’re like most runners, your cadence is likely significantly lower than 180. You’re probably taking longer strides than is healthy, causing you to heel strike without even realizing it.
Improving your cadence will require a bit of patience and diligent work – but after the first few weeks, your new cadence will begin to feel normal.
Start with just a short run each time, focusing on matching each step to the click of the metronome. You’ll likely be shortening your stride to maintain pace with the new cadence. After a week or so of successfully running in time with the metronome, take your runs outdoors and continue using the metronome.
It may take a while before your body adjust to this new running cadence, but once it does, you’ll be able to run with a cadence of 180 without even thinking about it. The stride length and pace will feel completely normal.
When I began, my running cadence was around 150 bpm.
This was incredibly low – and I had no idea! Getting up to 180 took quite a bit of work, but after a few weeks I finally got the hang of it.
Once it started to feel more natural I let myself run outside, keeping the metronome going in my headphones and focusing on shortening my stride and increasing my turnover.
Don’t get me wrong, it took quite a bit of work to get there. The runs were tedious, I got bored and often wanted to give up.
But once I got started I could tell I was on to something – my muscles were much less tight after each run and my feet didn’t hurt at all. After years of struggling, my chronic running injuries were beginning to fade away.
Improving your running cadence is a great way to help avoid injury.
Taking the time to improve your running cadence may feel like a tedious task, but spending the time focusing on this running technique now will pay off leaps and bounds in the future. This shorter stride will help you avoid heel striking and over-striding, two common causes of running injuries.
Your increased turnover will help you run faster with less work and keep you running strong in the long run. If there is one running technique that every runner should know, whether they’re an elite or beginner, it’s how to determine and improve their running cadence.
More tips to improve your form:
- 5 Running Drills to Improve Your Form and Efficiency
- 6 Habits for Runners to Avoid Injuries
- The 5 Biggest Mistakes Runners Make – and How to Fix Them
- How to Break Through a Running Plateau