What Is Cadence in Running?

You’ve probably come across the word “cadence” in a musical context before. Most people use it to refer to the ending of a phrase, which doesn’t really translate all that smoothly into a running context, so what exactly does cadence mean to a runner? Let’s find out!

What Is a Runner’s Cadence?

What a lot of people don’t realize is that cadence also has another meaning in musical theory, and that’s rhythmic articulation. When we think of cadence as pertaining to rhythm rather than a piece of music as a whole, it becomes a lot easier to glean its meaning from a runner’s perspective.

Simply put, your cadence is the number of times your feet hit the floor per minute when you’re running. Sometimes, people may also use the term cadence to refer to the number of times just one of your feet hits the ground per minute of running. This figure can simply be doubled to find your full cadence.

There is no scientifically proven cadence that works better than any other. It all comes down to personal physiology and what feels right. So, even though, alongside stride length, cadence defines a runner’s speed, you shouldn’t necessarily be aiming for a specific number, as it probably won’t help you run any faster.

Why Should You Care About Your Cadence?

Now, I know what you’re thinking…if keeping tabs on my cadence won’t help me run any faster, why should I bother myself with it at all? Well, first off, increasing your cadence can indeed help you go faster, which is why advanced runners tend to have much higher cadences than novices.

However, the increase in cadence should be a natural development as you grow stronger and refine your running technique. Your cadence rate grows as a result of you getting better at running. You don’t get better at running by consciously altering your cadence.

That said, there are a number of major benefits to analyzing your cadence. You’ll learn how to run more economically, it can reduce muscle strain during training sessions, injuries are less common, and it can even help during the recovery process if you do pick up an injury — pretty neat, huh?

What Is Considered a Professional Cadence?

The cadence of professional runners is largely determined by their event of choice. For instance, talented marathon runners score around 180 steps per minute (with beginners hitting somewhere around 140), whereas world-class sprinters like Usain Bolt exceed the 250 mark.

What Determines a Runner’s Cadence?

Cadence isn’t something that can be completely manufactured, as it’s largely determined by your body type. For example, taller runners have a much longer stride, which means their cadence can be quite a bit lower than a shorter runner, yet they may have the exact same records over the same distance.

A lower cadence or shorter stride doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re not running efficiently. As you work on your coordination, technique, strength, speed, and endurance, you might find one measure gets lower while the other gets a little higher.

Your optimal cadence will allow you to run as fast as you ever have before while burning as little energy as possible, and the more you practice running in this way, the longer you can travel at your maximum pace.

How Do Runners Measure Their Cadence?

The easiest way to measure your cadence is to use a runner’s watch like this Fitpolo fitness tracker. It counts your steps automatically as you run. Simply time yourself running over a 60-second period and see what your watch reports back to you.

Do bear in mind, however, that some watches are designed to measure an individual leg, so if your cadence comes out horrifyingly low, don’t worry about it. You’re not the slowest runner in the world; you need to double the figure to determine your true score.

Alternatively, you can do things the old-school way and simply count your steps yourself over a 60-minute period, but if you want to assess the nature of your cadence during running events, it’s best to use a watch, so you can focus on the task at hand.

Why It’s Important to Closely Monitor Your Running Cadence?

Eliminating an Overstride

Monitoring your cadence is a great way to determine if you’re overstriding during a run. Overstriding means that your foot is hitting the ground too far in front of your center of gravity. This causes a heavy heel-to-ground impact that creates a lot of shock and involves a longer contact time, slowing you down with each step you take.

A slightly shorter stride will bring your foot down beneath rather than out ahead of you, facilitating faster foot-to-ground contact and softer impacts, meaning you’re less likely to injure yourself.

Varying Your Training

Once you’re aware of cadence and stride length, you can vary your training drills. Focusing on both low and high cadence movements trains your body in a more holistic manner, helping you to grow stronger, and improve your coordination.

Troubleshooting Form

As our energy reserves deplete over the course of a long run, our movements begin to change, and we lose form, yet this change can be so gradual that we may not even realize it’s happening.

Despite the deviation in form, our bodies and minds automatically strive to maintain pace, and as long as we’re running quickly, we’ve no reason to notice that anything has gone awry.

The problem is that once we lose form, we stop running efficiently, and won’t be able to keep up the same pace for long. By analyzing our cadence during a run, we can establish if – and precisely when – we lose form, a sure sign that we need to refine our technique.

Then, using the specialized training drills I mentioned a moment ago, we can work on our stride length and cadence to improve the efficiency of our technique, and when we get it right, we will no longer lose form when we tire.

Runner’s Cadence – The Final Word

Don’t let yourself get too carried away by cadence. Aiming for a certain number isn’t the way to improve. Instead, focus on varying your training and improving your running in general; your cadence will then naturally rise or fall to fit your optimal form.

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