How to improve your running cadence

RUNNING cadence is the number of times your foot strikes the ground every minute but why is it important and how can you improve yours? Find out here.

For runners, the magic number for cadence is 180, a figure identified by the famous running coach, Jack Daniels. For recreational runners cadence usually falls between 160 and 170. Working on your cadence could make you faster. Here’s how you can improve your running cadence.

Get your feet moving
Pushing off from the ground is what drives the running movement and propels you forward. It makes sense that the faster you can get your feet off the ground, the faster you will go. Some elite runners strike the ground more than 200 times at their fastest. Remember that cadence is also determined by your height, weight, fitness, length of your legs and your stride length.

Measure your cadence
Many watches now measure your cadence. If you don’t have a watch with this function, you can count the number of times each foot strikes the ground in one minute. Focus on one leg to make the counting easier then multiply the number by two to work out your overall cadence. Try to measure your cadence during a variety of runs and races. You’ll notice that it’s higher in a race or speed session than an everyday training run. If your cadence is below 180 in a 5km race, don’t despair. It’s possible to give your cadence a boost.

How to improve your cadence
There’s no quick way to improve your cadence. It takes time and patience, but can make a big difference. Here’s how you can introduce a faster cadence into your training.

How to improve your running cadence.

Use a metronome
A metronome app allows you to select a specific number of beats per minute. You could use this during a run, trying to match your cadence to the beat. As you try to keep in time, you’ll start to take shorter, faster strides. Doing this allows your body to get used to the faster rhythm. If you don’t have a metronome, you could also use music with the desired number of beats per minute or even count in your head.

Perform drills before you run
Before your run, take time to do some drills. This will get your mind and body ready for the faster turnover. Bounce on the spot to the desired number of beats. You can develop this into a jog on the spot, then focus on lifting the knees, all to the desired rhythm.

Work on faster feet
Run a set distance (around 10-20m) focusing on taking short, fast strides. The aim is to get your feet off the ground as quickly as possible. Have a recovery before going again. Repeat the exercise four times.

Focus on cadence during a run
During your run incorporate some faster-paced running. This is known as fartlek, or speed-play. You could run between lampposts or time yourself, but aim to run reps of 30 seconds to one minute at around your 5km race pace. As you run, focus on your cadence. Try to measure this too. You’ll soon notice improvements.

Try downhill speed work
Many runners neglect downhill speed work, but it is useful. Try doing four downhill sprints over a distance of around 200m. As you run down the hill, gradually increase your speed so you’re at your maximum pace at the bottom. Walk up the hill to recover, and then repeat.

Cadence and injury prevention
Research suggests that cadence has a part to play in injury prevention. If you run with a faster cadence, you’re likely to change your form. You’re more likely to strike the floor with the mid-part of your foot, and because your strides are shorter, you’re less likely to over-stride. This is where runners extend their legs out in front of the body. Not only does this slow them down, but it can also lead to injury.

Improving your running cadence takes time and consistency but can help improve your running performance. Let me know how you get on.

You may also be interested in this blog post: How to improve your running technique.

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