Working on Your Running Cadence – Get The Facts

Jan 16, 2018


The running cadence debate has been a hot topic of debate for runners, from all backgrounds, for the past five years. It all started when running coach Jack Daniels made an observation at the 1984 Olympics about runners across distances from 800 metres to marathon. The concept was that elite runners at the Olympics seemed to have a cadence of 180 or higher. Note this was an observation form the stands, that the cadence was higher and that we are talking about elite runners.

Over time, and certainly at its re-emergence more recently, the notion has been that a cadence of 180 is seen as the gold standard for runners to obtain. At the expensive of all other information and input, achieving this would automatically make you the runner you wanted to be. It has been well researched now that runners tend to self-select a cadence that is optimally efficient for them as a runners, so this is worth keeping in mind.

The Research

A research article released at the very end of last year from America will help strengthen our long held view that cadence is something that develops when your running well, having good technique, good dynamic strength and a varied training programme. Key elements to really improve your running speed. The article ‘Step Frequency Patterns of Elite Ultramarathon Runners during a 100-km Road Race’ (Burns et al 2018) is one of the first studies to look at race conditions amongst elite runners. So what did they find and what does it mean to you the runner on the street?

There were three quite clear hypotheses for the project. Firstly that cadence (stride frequency for the project) remains constant throughout a race. Secondly cadence is not influenced by running speed. Finally that cadence is not affected by the runners characteristics. The research paper confirmed that cadence remained the same throughout the race for the elite runners, contrary to predictions the paper found that with increased running speed the individuals cadence increased. In this paper for every 1m/s increase (about 3.6km/hr increase in running speed) there is an average increase in cadence of about 5.6 spm (steps per minute), again in a elite runner. Finally looking at the runner themselves the only physical factor that affects cadence is height of the runner, with the taller runners having a significantly slower cadence naturally.

What does this mean to you?

The main area that every runner is going to be concerned about now will be; Where do I put my training time if cadence is not a priority?

It is simple really however the better you train, the more varied your training the most you will be able to gain from your cadence. And it should be considered a gain to your running. I would break it down into 4 simple areas to address;

1. Your running technique – All elite runners work on their running technique as part of their training week. It is an essential part to maintain good movement patterns, good form and maximise efficiency. Your cadence will probably fall slightly to begin with as you improve your movement patterns.

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2. Strength Training – Don’t panic this is not weights in the gym. However most runners could work more on the strength side of their training, after long runs or on rest days. A mix of static work, dynamic training and finally some dynamic work to improve ground reaction times.

3. Your Training Programme – It must be varied! Too many non elite runners work at the same speed, same runs even week in week out. Change it up a gear, add in intervals, complete 6-8 week blocks of hill work, add in tempo runs. There is so much out there you can do to add variation and therefore speed development to your running. You will also decrease injury risks with mixed training sessions and become more effective at push off phase.

4. Stay Flexible – You probably work at a desk, which means you spend between 6-14 hours of your day sitting. In this position your quads, hip flexors are all in a shortened position, while your gluts are lengthened. Yet to run you require the exact opposite! Make sure you have a good stretching routine in your weekly programme after your runs to maintain your movement patterns for efficient running.

Hopefully runners can move forwards from here and see cadence as a sign of how their training is progressing. You do not want to force your cadence too high, as you are likely to move to a shuffle running technique and this loads your joints excessively. Check your cadence and work on it developing naturally through good training and good form.

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