Cadence – Improving Running Efficiency

One way in which you can improve your running form and efficiency, without much extra effort, is to increase your cadence. Your cadence is the number of times your foot strikes the ground within a time frame, typically measured per minute. Research has found that 180 bpm is the “ideal” cadence, but an individual’s ideal cadence can vary based on musculature, bone structure, leg length, foot structure, etc. That being said, if your cadence is less than 170 bpm, it’s a good idea to try to increase that a bit. A higher running cadence can help you run with better form, avoiding injuries, can help you run faster, and lead you to run with a mid-foot strike, which many believe to be ideal.

How do you improve your cadence? First, you have to determine your current cadence to form a baseline. You can either:

  1. When you’re running a comfortable, steady pace, count your footfalls for 30 seconds. Double that number to find your cadence.
  2. Using a metronome app, find the speed that matches your footfalls, so alternating feet hit the ground with each beat, when you’re running a comfortable, steady pace. I like this version because I lose count of my steps super easily and get frustrated.

Say your baseline is 161 bpm, and you’d like to get it to 180 bpm. I suggest that you do a few runs with your friendly metronome app to get used to it. I like setting a 4/4 time beat, with the first beat set at a different sound than the subsequent 3 beats. When I start my run, I note which foot hits the ground at that first beat, and try to keep that consistent. This way, I can tell pretty quickly if I’ve fallen off pace or am going too quickly. Once you are used to and comfortable with running to a metronome, increase the tempo slightly, at least by 2 bpm but by no more than 5 bpm. Run at this cadence until you feel comfortable with it – you can stick with the beat fairly easily without falling off pace too frequently. Spend at least a few weeks at this pace. Then, increase the cadence again, sticking with the new pace until you’re comfortable with it. Continue this process until you’ve reached 180 bpm.

Note that if you feel like 180 is too quick for you, you can dial it back a bit. Or maybe it’s not quick enough, so you need to keep increasing your cadence until you find that sweet spot. As you increase your cadence, you may find that your overall pace is decreasing. This is to be expected! Increasing your cadence means you are shortening your strides, so it’ll take some to build back up to your previous speed at a higher cadence. But you should find that running is easier, feels more natural, and less strenuous.

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