Optimal Running Cadence

Optimal Running Cadence

Did you know ground contact time changes how fast you run? 

Let’s use an extreme example, pretend like you are running in slow motion. How long does each foot stay on the ground? A long time, right?

Now pretend to run fast in place and notice what happens. It’s like you are running on your toes, getting your feet off the ground as quickly as possible. 

It’s been shown a cadence around 180 is highly efficient for the running we do. There will be some variation between runners, but +/- 10 seems to be about right. That means each foot is making contact with the ground about 90 times each minute. 

If you are a 100m sprinter it’ll be higher, when you are doing an ultra on trails it’ll probably be slower. 

Fortunately, cadence isn’t something we have to count on our own. Many watches can now relatively accurately calculate your cadence as long as your arm motion is consistent. 

You just got home from your run and noticed your cadence was really low. Well here are a few tips to help you start to bring your cadence up to a more efficient number. 

Tip #1 - Think “Wheels”

I'm not talking about getting wheelies or something like that! This is a verbal cue I (Jordan) use when I want to increase my cadence.

This tip seems a little contradictory because a wheel is pretty much in contact with the ground at all times. But I think about spinning my legs as quickly as I can, which inherently decreases ground contact time. 

Tip #2 - Focus on your knees

Have you ever done the drill where you put your hands out and pull your knees up to your hands? You almost want to think about doing this while you run. 

Thinking about high knees will also encourage you to pull your foot off the ground sooner. 

Before your foot even touches the ground, think about your leg moving backward, propelling your body forward and bringing your knee back high.

Tip #3 - Jump Rope

Training with a jump rope is a wonderful way to teach your body to be much more responsive to getting your foot off the ground. After all, if your feet don’t get off the ground quick enough you’ll get tripped up!

Jumping rope is also a great warm-up, especially before intervals, as it wakes up nearly every muscle in the body from the toes to the shoulders. 

Tip #4 - Music

Throw on some of your favorite pump-up music and you’ll instantly find yourself running faster! Whatever it may be, make it fast and try to match the pace. You may find yourself overrunning because you are sucked into the music!

Scars by Red Hot Chili Peppers, Crazy Town by Jason Aldean, I Wanna Rock by Snoop and many other songs are all in the 90bpm area. Here’s an incredibly exhaustive list of songs 89-91bpm so you can make a custom playlist!

Increasing your cadence is one of the quickest and easiest ways to gain some speed while running. It'll feel fairly unnatural if you have a slow cadence by default, but as you keep your cadence high your body will become more efficient at a higher cadence.

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