Speed, Stride Length, and Cadence


Cadence (AKA stride rate) is the number of steps you take per minute. Speed is how much distance you cover in a specific amount of time. In the U.S. this is minutes per mile pretty much everywhere else it is minutes per kilometer. Stride length is the space between your front toe and your rear heel at their widest during a step.

What’s so important about cadence?

A higher cadence reduces injury by lowering the impact of each step. It also allows you to maintain a faster pace for longer because you are a more efficient runner. Most elite runners have a cadence of 180 steps per minute or more. Most recreational runners are running at a 160-170 cadence. You can figure out your cadence by counting each time your right foot hits the ground in one minute while you are running, then times it by two.

Running with a higher cadence automatically results in shortening your stride length and reduces the amount of time you spend in the air. Because of these two things, it reduces the amount of force you hit the ground with and thus reduces the risk of injury. As for efficiency, a faster cadence means less hang time and a less forceful toe off. Over distance, this reduction of energy will help maintain a higher speed.

How do you increase your cadence?

Not everyone should run at a 180 cadence. Beginning runners and runners who typically run an 11-minute mile or slower, should focus on making sure they have proper form and are not over striding before increasing cadence.

The easiest way to increase cadence is by paying attention to it. First figure out what your cadence is currently. Famed running coach, Jack Daniels, suggests running as if you are running on eggshells. Another option is to listen to music with a 180 cadence or a metronome set at 180 beats per minute. Basically, you want light quick steps. When you are first working on increasing your cadence, start with a five percent increase as a goal. So if you run at a 160 cadence, increase it to a 168. If you’re at 166, increase to 174 and so on.

Are cadence and speed connected? Yes, but cadence isn’t the only way to increase your speed. Another way is to make sure you have good hip strength and mobility. Hip strength prevents multiple common injuries such as shin splints, runner’s knee, and ITBand syndrome. When it is combined with mobility, it increases your stride length and power.

I know, I know, I just said you want a shorter stride length. However, with all things running there is no one right way to do things. The thing to be wary of when increasing your stride length is over striding. If you are landing on your foot when it is way out in front of your body, you’re over striding. Over striding causes impact forces to move through your body incorrectly causing injuries to tendons and bones. The increase in length comes from the back swing. In other words, how far back your hip extends before you pull your foot forward for the next step.

You can find hip exercises under my strength-training tab above. Stretching is going to increase your hip mobility. You need to stretch your quads, hamstrings, and hip flexors.

As with changing anything in the way that your body runs, take it slow and pay attention to how you are feeling.

Pace vs. Cadence

track run

“If you take 180 steps a minute you must be going really fast!”

Not true. You can take 180 steps per minute and maintain a 13 minute mile if you want. Cadence has more to do with stride length, push off, and turn over than the pace.

The benefit of having a high cadence is that it reduces the impact forces that reverberate through your body when your foot hits the ground. Reducing the impact forces on your body reduces your risk of injury including shin splints, runner’s knee, and ITband issues.

Like with everything in running, if you want to increase your cadence you have to do so slowly. In order to count your cadence, count each time one foot hits the ground for thirty seconds and then multiply by four.

Not everyone should run at the 180 cadence, you have to find what is optimal for you.

What you are looking for is a cadence that places your foot beneath you as you contact the ground. Your knee is slightly bent. Your ankle, knee, and hip act like a spring. If your stride length is too long, rather than landing on a spring, you are landing on a straight stick.

Try it. Take a spring and push it on to the ground, feel the gentle impact. Now, take a straight stick and push it into the ground, pound it on the ground. Can you feel the vibration go through the stick? That’s what you are doing to your body when you land with your foot too far in front of you, not pleasant.

A higher cadence, keeps your feet below you. You can still maintain a slower pace even with a high cadence. Go to a track and try it out. Maintain your pace and shorten your stride length. Your feet should stay closer to the ground because you are not pushing off as hard. Now increase your pace, you will notice you push off harder, you have more air time, and your stride lengthens.