In addition to maintaining proper posture and landing on your mid-foot, good running form requires having an economical running cadence. For the sake of running terms, cadence is defined by how many steps you take per minute (also known as turnover rate). Exercise physiologists and athletic researchers have spent considerable time analyzing the stride rate of various caliber athletes to determine the rate at which an athlete is most efficient and economical.
180 Strides Per Minute
Legendary distance running coach, Jack Daniels, who is known for his scientific, yet simple approach to training, analyzed the stride rates of several elite athletes including all participants in the 1984 Olympics from the 800-meters up to the marathon. He determined that most elite athletes regardless of their age, gender or the speed at which they are traveling, take about 180 total steps per minute or 90 steps per foot.
When I first came across this seemingly magical number while reading Daniels’ Running Formula, I was more than skeptical. So like any curious athlete, I put my shoes on to test it out. A couple miles in I started counting my strides for one full minute. Sure enough, I was dead on 180! Just as I learned in 7th grade science class, it is important to do multiple tests to increase validity of your study, so off I went again…178, 179, 180! After several more trials, I tipped my hat to Jack and carried on my run. Not too long passed before I started to question the magical number again. “How about if I were to speed up or slow down?” I thought. It appears Daniels’ had the same question and tested this out as well. What he discovered was that the main game changer when an athlete increases their speed is their stride length, not their stride rate, therefore most elites maintain their 180 steps per minute even while racing. In races shorter than 800-meters, the most elite athletes often take even more than 180 steps per minute.
More Steps, Less Injuries
In most cases, beginner runners are rarely running at a cadence of 180 steps per minute and the most common reason for this is over striding or too much vertical movement (bouncing). So why is this dangerous? Well, when you take fewer steps per minute, that means that your body mass is suspended in the air for a greater amount of time, and as a result causes a greater force to be applied when your body finally makes contact with the ground. Since most injuries are impact related, stride rate is not something to mess around with.
Improving Your Cadence
How do you increase your turnover? Practice. Each time you run, set aside two to three minutes to test out your cadence. Test your turnover once at the beginning of your run, then again mid-run, and once more towards the end of your run. It is very common for runners to lose their good running form as them became fatigued. Check-in often, to avoid running sloppy and increasing risk of injury. Also, be sure that you are landing on your mid-foot and that you are striking the ground right below your hips. (Learn more about Proper Running Posture). If your foot is landing out in front of you, you are over-striding, and likely heel striking, both major causes of injury for runners.
The Test: Start your watch on the minute and count how many times your right or left foot makes contact with the ground. The ideal cadence being 90 steps per foot, per minute.
For more tips on improving your running form visit GoodFormRunning.com
About the Author: Chantelle Wilder is the Senior Editor and Co-Founder of Runners Feed. She also competes for the New Balance Silicon Valley club in the Bay Area of California. When she isn’t running, or editing she can be found enjoying the fruitful wines of nearby Napa Valley while challenging her husband to a game of Bananagrams®.