Do you have to run at a 180 steps per minute Cadence. There is a lot of confusion about this topic. Hopefully you’ll get a better picture by the end of this post.
Before giving you the explanation I need to dig into running form.
- True or False? do you HAVE to land right below your center of gravity like every one claims ?
The runner’s body in motion is like a human slingshot. When you try to throw a projectile using a slingshot you pull the elastic band and release it. When you pull the band you are storing energy (called potential energy in Physics). When you release it, the energy becomes cinematic energy. To sum up you are storing energy during the first phase and releasing it. Same thing happens during running. When you land, at the moment your foot touches the ground it is storing energy. The weight on that leg/foot will go from 0 to 2.5 times your body weight. This loading weight does not happen instantly, it takes a fraction of a second until it reaches the max load (2.5 times your weight). It is at this exact moment that your foot should be under your center of gravity. Not before, not after. To make that happen you need to land slightly in front of your center of gravity (5-10 cm?) to give time to the loading phase. Then if done properly, you will “unload” the stored energy right under your center of gravity (so by the time it reaches about 2.5 times your body weight). So the answer to the question above is technically “False”, although you are landing very closed to it in reality.
- Vertical oscillation viewed on the sagittal plane, how much?
If you were to throw a stone as far as possible, what angle would you aim at? Let’s take the two extreme opposite. If you shoot really high up in the sky, the stone would go high but would not travel very far. On the other hand if you throw your stone in a direction parallel to the ground you would throw it further but it is still not optimal right? We all know intuitively that the right way is somewhere in the middle, the stone will have a parabolic trajectory and the angle should be around 45deg ish. It is same for running, you want to propel your body forward as efficiently as possible, and to do that the angle between the ground and your foot during toe off should come close to 45 degrees. So if we were to draw a line representing the movement of your head when watching you from the side (on the sagittal plane) we should see an oscillation that is not as flat as some people are claiming. If that line is flat, you are just throwing your stone horizontally, if the amplitude is to big, you are jumping too much at each stride.
So what all this has to do with 180 cadence?
Well 180 cadence contribute to the above. It is the result of an efficient running form. Being efficient makes you run at around 180 cadence, not the other way around. The original observation came from researchers looking at the cadence of a pool of Olympians and they’ve noticed that the average cadence was 180 with a very low standard deviation. Running at 180 will force you to land closer to your center of gravity and will force you to push off the ground at the right angle, if your cadence is higher than 180 you would understride and move too horizontally, on the other hand if your cadence was significantly lower than 180 you would tend to overstride, jumping too much. Does that mean having a cadence of say 186 or 173 a disaster? of course not ! there’s a margin of error as everyone is unique and has a unique morphology. Your gait has to feel natural. But the bottom line is that too high above 180 or too low will have loose running economy.
- Is it better too high or too low?
In terms of efficiency there is no so much difference. But from an impact standpoint and injury prevention, because a lower cadence will have a tendency of getting you landing further from your center of gravity, you would increase the loading impact on your leg, thus creating more stress. When we get tired we tend to rely more on what we are good at. Which one is easier? kicking in front of you? or behind? You got it. For many of us, our front is stronger than our back muscles, we are quad dominants mainly because having a desk job and sitting all day long does not help. When we get tired during a run, or at the end of an interval, we tend to overstride, to reach further out because that’s more intuitive but unfortunately not more efficient. We then land too far out from our center of gravity and the runner has to “unload” the energy while the foot is still in front of the center of mass, costing much more energy as we are creating an unwanted breaking force at each step. You get this double whammy effect of fatigue + diminished running form efficiency. If you watch the best kickers (Bekele, El guerrouj, gebrselassie etc) at the end of their race of a track event, you will see that they are not overstriding, they increase their cadence big time !!!
So if you kickdown to kick ass, move your legs faster !!
7 thoughts on “Running Cadence”
Pretty! This was an incredibly wonderful article. Thank you for supplying these
A late come back on your article Harry. As you know, I have always been a big advocate to train for higher cadence. There would be many points to talk about. Here are a few.
1/ 180rpm is more like the minimum cadence to safely run than a target (http://www.treadlightlybook.com/2012/07/do-all-elites-run-at-180-cadence-none.html)
2/ It takes years of training to be able to maintain high cadence for a long time. By default our quads have slow twitch muscle fibers, because we don’t do any activity that requires us to bring our knee up quickly. Interestingly, smaller people would have a natural higher walking cadence, training quads to faster twitches; The taller you are, the less you should walk to keep your quads best for running! When I started to focus on cadence training, I could hardly change my cadence. First measurements were always the same at a small 1% difference; I could hardly believe it. I trained using with music to use my sub conscience to replicate music cadence with my steps. It’s mentally easier and avoid cadence slow down when you are tired. In 3 Months you see some improvements for short distance. I took me almost 2 years to be able to keep 200rpm for 1 hour. And if you run less or run slow for too long, you need to retrain to get it back…
3/ so why higher cadence? Why fast quads? Have you noticed that when tired, your running cadence gets slower, and your running balance/kinetics is modified. It puts you in a position to get harmed easily. On the other hand, when you run at higher cadence, you put yourself in a better kinetics: straight core, better balance. It is one reason why running fast improve your running shape, teaches your whole body the right positioning, balance and core strength. There is one more thing: fast quads enable you to give time to achieve proper strides. At each stride, you raise your leg and push it back. Pushing fast is the easiest part. But there is a coordination between the raising for one leg and the pushing on the other leg. When your raising is not as fast as it should be, your body adapts by changing the stride putting some velocity/restricting movements at some point you don’t really need to compensate for slower moves. By training at higher cadence at low pace, you can improve your stride for faster runs, and diminish risks of injuries for all your runs…
4/ Interestingly cadence training enables to raise your knee faster, so that you can have a “wider” stride. The interest is to have more time to put some force/kinetics in your foot and increases the time of your foot in the air, while lessen the contact time (at the best postion). What it means is it makes you run with a great kinetics at lower cadence rates!
Hi Gildas, ok here is my 2 cents on the topic:
1/ To me 180spm (again don’t want to make it sound like a magic number which is clearly not), is where your natural gait should be at, +/- 10 spm as your article is suggestion at the end. I think where my point differs from yours is the cause and consequences. I think 180 is a consequence/corollary to a good and proper running form with good neuromuscular efficiency and not the other way around. If your cadence is in the 150 range, then yes of course by working and forcing to increase it closer to the 180 or higher range will help your form. But If your cadence is already 180, I don’t think forcing to run at 200spm is going any beneficial if you have poor running form and muscle imbalance. Yes, on the video, the top 11 are running for most of them higher than 190 (with “only” two higher than 195). But we are talking about elites runners running at sub 2:50 min/k. At that velocity, 190spm is more natural, and is a result of their good running form and their high speed. If you were to run at 5:00 pace I doubt running at 200spm is natural (at least for most of us)
2/ I totally agree that it takes time to work on the cadence. When I started I was in the 170 range or maybe lower, today my cadence is about 185+ on easy runs, and ~195 on medium to hard runs. To get to there I didn’t work on my cadence per say. I worked on my running form. I have an edge like you say because I’m shorter. But now with a better running form, even after a 2 months break with zero running, when I take back on running, my cadence is naturally 185+ on easy runs. I don’t have to re-train that.
3/ Yes, when you are tired it is very common to decrease the cadence because over-striding becomes more intuitive. And to my opinion, the main reason is not because of weak quads, it is the opposite. Most of us have desk job, so sitting all day long with hip flexors in a chronic shortened state, which makes us quad dominants. Moving fast require good hip flexors and mostly very good gluteus (the butt muscles). Hip flexors will drive your knee forward, the quads will extend the knee – this the swing phase. Then when you get to the stance phase, that is when you land, if you are over-striding due to poor form or due to fatigue, you will land too far ahead of your center of mass and your quads will take all the load – eccentrically ! It is this eccentric contraction that give you dead quads at the end of the marathon or after a long steep downhill. Fast cadence is then the result of – not “fast quads” – but efficient hip flexors and strong gluteus that will extend your legs for back and propel you forward with a good velocity – the butt kicking that you see on TV on ALL the elite runners: Their amplitude of range of motion is very wide, their legs swing back very far, it is their posterior strength that makes them super-efficient, not their anterior movement. So let me rephrase it. Their high cadence is the result of a very efficient form: strong gluteus, hamstrings and good hip flexors, an efficient kicking rather than an efficient “leg raising” like you say, a better posterior movement rather than an anterior one.
Re-watch a video of elite runners, and take a look at their upper leg (hip to knee), the range of motion is symmetric: it goes back as far as it goes forward. For most of recreational runners, it is the opposite, a shift towards the anterior side, so over striding so quads dominant so dead quads at the end of the marathon.
4/ So to come back on the 200spm, imho, when you are already at 180spm, I don’t think that forcing it to 200+ range will do you any good, especially if your form is not good and you have weak gluteus. What will happen then is that you will run un-naturally and you will overcompensate to reach this high cadence, you will still be very quad-dominant and will not address the muscle imbalance. Once you have corrected all the imbalance, I believe the higher cadence will come naturally and as you say things as ground contact will decrease and running economy will increase.
That was rather a lengthy rant, I’m not sure my point was clear but anyways thank very much buddy to take the time to read my stuff and to make such a constructive comment !!
See you soon !
I am impressed with your cadence improvement even though you didn’t focus on it. That is a great example that getting a good running form will naturally improve your cadence. I totally agree with that.
Many people take the number of cadence as the magic number disregarding morphology.
One more thing I would like to add from my observation. Running cadence is directly proportional to the speed at which someone is running. If you are running 5 minutes pace a km in 180 steps a minute, then I am not sure if you have a good running economy unless you are a super small person.
Even for elites when they are doing a super slow run they don’t hit 180 steps a minute.