What is running cadence?

What is cadence in running and how can it elevate performance?

Amon Fearon - October 03, 2022

Cadence is a measurement some professional and recreational runners use to improve running technique. Not only does it give a good indication of speed, but optimising cadence could help you when training for longer runs from 5k to marathons.


What is cadence in running?

Running cadence is the number of steps you take per minute while running. You may have also heard cadence running referred to as foot turnover, step frequency or stride frequency.

Athletes differ in cadence based on physical and mechanical factors that can affect it. For starters, height plays a big part in your measurements. Taller runners with extended leg length, for example, tend to have longer strides and slower cadence.

So before you compare yourself to someone a foot taller than you, think about how your height makes a difference. Similarly, your cadence can be affected by body mass, force production or the terrain you run on. On an incline, you’ll have a slower cadence, and, on a decline, it will be faster.


Why is cadence important in running?

There's reason to believe that increasing the frequency of your stride to the optimal rate for your specific body and running style provides performance benefits. For example, studies of runners suggest there is a direct energetic benefit from increasing their stride frequency, as well as speed enhancements and more efficient energy cost. Additionally, at a higher cadence your legs tend to have less contact time and strenuous impact with the ground, which helps to reduce risk of injury. A low cadence, however, can put more stress on joints and leg muscles.


How to improve running cadence

To improve your cadence, you have to really put the effort into increasing your steps per minute above what is normal for you. If you don’t know where to start, try downloading a beat or metronome app to give you an auditory cue. As with most exercise, starting slow and steady is the best approach to prevent injury. Avoid over-stretching yourself to reach a certain cadence and instead focus your attention on gradually building up your technique. A good starting point is to increase your cadence by 5% each time you move up in your training. This should feel challenging and push you but is a realistic number to aim for.

It's important to remember that improving your cadence alone doesn’t make you a better runner. It is a combination of working on your stamina, balance, speed and strength together with your cadence that will see you make meaningful progress. Perhaps the simplest way to enhance performance and make running a more enjoyable experience is with proper gear. Premium performance sportswear with lightweight and breathable fabrics including men’s running shorts will help you to stay comfortable leaving you feeling as though you can go the extra mile.


What is a good average cadence for running?

There isn’t really such a thing as ‘average cadence’ as it can be affected by factors like height, weight, and style of running. However, as a rough guide, a good occasional or recreational runner is likely to have a cadence of between 150 – 170 steps per minute. 


How to measure cadence when running

To find out your cadence, all you need to do is count how many times your feet hit the ground in 60 seconds while running at your usual pace. Simply set a timer on your phone or use a stopwatch to help you. It’s best to count your steps yourself rather than relying on a smartwatch as these don’t always give the most accurate results.


What running cadence should I aim for?

If a good average cadence for recreational runners is between 150 – 170, you may be wondering what’s best to aim for. Research has found that for every inch of height, there is a decrease of a little over three steps per minute in cadence. Based on that, someone who is 6’0” would take around 18 fewer steps per minute than someone who stands at 5’6”.

Since we’ve already established that there isn’t a one-size-fits-all for cadence, how do you work out what you should aim for?

  1. Work out your cadence by counting how many steps you take running in a 60-second period.
  2. Take your height into consideration, how may this be affecting your score?
  3. Focus on improving your cadence by 5% each time you move up in your training.


With all that at hand, you should be able to get an idea of what to aim for. When you spend time being mindful of cadence when running, you should start to find a pace that works best for you.