How a Triathlete can Increase Cadence While Running: 6 Pro Tips

If you’re a regular in spin class and own a Peloton or other indoor cycle, you’re certainly familiar with your RPMs and the ever-present quest to pedal your legs faster and faster. Your pedal stroke rate is your cadence. Now, how to increase cadence while running instead? 

While more familiar to cyclists, the concept of cadence also applies to running. Your running cadence is your stride rate, or how many steps you are taking per minute as you run.

Your running speed is a product of your stride length and your cadence. In other words, the longer your stride, the more ground you cover, and the more strides you can take per minute, the more ground you cover.

Increasing your stride length can potentially increase the risk of injury, but increasing your cadence may actually reduce the risk of injury while simultaneously increasing your speed and improving your running pace. Win-win.

What Is Running Cadence?

Put simply, cadence – also known as stride rate – is the number of steps a runner takes per minute (SPM). It’s the most common metric used to measure running form and remains important for several reasons. For starters, the shorter your stride length and the quicker your stride rate, the faster and better you run.

You can determine your running cadence by either counting how many steps you take in a minute while you run, or you can calculate your running cadence by counting how many times your right foot falls while running for 15 seconds. 

Multiply this number by 2 to account for both feet. Then, multiply that result by 4 to extrapolate the pace for the full 60 seconds in a minute.

Is There An Optimal Cadence For Running?

If you’ve been running for a while, then no doubt you’ve heard reference to 180spm being the optimal cadence range. Every runner has their own “individual” optimal cadence range – essentially a cadence range where there is greater efficiency and reduced risk of injury.

With cadence there are two very important points to consider:

  • First, there is no magic cadence value that is optimal for every runner (we’re all different)
  • Second, you have your own optimal range which will change depending on the running speed 

Why Is Cadence Important?

While many factors affect running performance, at its simplest, there are only two metrics that ultimately determine running speed:

  • Stride length
  • Cadence

It’s an unbreakable law of running that running speed is always determined by stride length multiplied by cadence. Clearly, cadence is a key part of the running speed formula – but that’s not all.

Why Should I Increase My Running Cadence?

Before we discuss how to increase running cadence, it’s important to cover why you might want to increase your running cadence in the first place.

As mentioned, your running cadence is one of two things that determine your pace. In a nutshell, how fast you run is determined by your stride length multiplied by your stride rate, or cadence.

Running speed = stride length x strides rate

To run faster, you can increase your stride length, cadence, or both. However, there’s evidence to suggest that increasing stride length can increase the risk of injuries because it increases impact or loading forces.

In contrast, research suggests that increasing your cadence by about 5-10% above your current stride frequency can reduce the risk of musculoskeletal stress and resultant injuries by reducing the impact and loading on your hip and knee joints, decreasing the braking force when your feet contact the ground and reducing your vertical ossification.

Essentially, a faster running cadence keeps your feet closer to a position under your body, which takes stress off the lower limbs, so it’s a healthy and safe way to run faster and smash your PRs. With this in mind, let’s take a look at how to increase cadence while running.

Three benefits of optimal cadence:

  • Faster running pace
  • Improved efficiency
  • Reduced over-striding and lower injury risk

As we’ve seen, running pace is determined by a combination of cadence and stride length.

However, this varies significantly between runners:

  • Some runners make use of a faster cadence and shorter stride length,
  • Others have a slower stride rate and a longer stride.

Here’s the thing, if you really want to maximize running performance, you need to develop the conditioning to maintain a fast cadence and a good stride length. Before taking a closer look at cadence, let’s quickly look at how to measure it.

How To Measure Cadence?

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The simplest approach is to use a GPS watch capable of recording cadence. There’s also a variety of foot pods that provide greater accuracy along with several other metrics. Another option is to count the number of steps you take during one minute of running.

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One point to note: it’s a lot easier to do this by just counting the steps taken on one leg, and then multiplying that figure by 2. Alternatively, count the steps on one leg for 30 seconds and multiply this by 4.

6 Tips For How To Increase Cadence While Running

Many runners aren’t sure how to increase cadence while running because it’s not something that most coaches or training programs really address explicitly. Although, there are probably things you are already doing in your training that can help increase your running cadence.

Any time you try to change anything about your running form, including increasing your running cadence, it can feel unnatural at first and you can feel like you’re stuck in your head and overthinking every single stride. 

This can initially detract from the joy and ease of running but can pay off in the long term. And remember, you don’t have to make drastic shifts all at once. 

When approaching how to increase your cadence while running, it’s actually perfectly acceptable—if not more ideal—to increase your running cadence gradually and just do a little bit of dedicated cadence training per run.

Below, we share actionable tips on how to increase cadence while running:

1. Use a Metronome

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There are metronome apps for runners, such as Smart Metronome and Run Tempo, or you can use an actual metronome for music practice to guide the cadence while you run. Like a conductor of an orchestra, the metronome will keep you honest and on track with your running cadence goals.

To begin, settle into your comfortable training pace on a run. Once you’ve reached your steady-state pace, turn on the metronome and simply dial it up or down until it matches your current running cadence. 

Then, start to increase the beat by 5%, and try to hold that cadence while you run for the next mile. Afterwards, allow your body to run at whatever cadence feels normal.

Gradually boost the amount of your run at a more rapid pace until most, if not all, of the run (barring the initial minutes of warming up), is at your fresh, higher cadence.

You can choose to use the metronome the whole run, to ensure you’re stepping in time, or you can shut it off and turn it on periodically while running to see if you’re maintaining the proper cadence.

2. Run Strides

Running strides after a run is a great way to improve your running form and increase your running cadence. Focus on quick turnover, as if each footfall lands on hot coals. Pump your arms to drive your legs forward and propel you into the next step.

3. Jump Rope

You may be surprised to see a jumping rope on a list of tips for how to increase cadence while running, but envisioning yourself as the next star in the Rocky films and harnessing your inner boxer can help you.

The key to using jumping rope to increase your cadence is to keep your jumps low and fast. Don’t think of the leisurely jumping rope on elementary school playgrounds; this is an athletic style of jumping rope that trains boxers, soccer players, and other athletes.

Jumping rope can not only help you increase your running cadence, but can also build aerobic fitness, bone density, coordination, and core strength.

4. Run Downhill 

Although you don’t want to do extensive downhill training because it can put excessive stress on your knees and shins, downhill strides can help you increase your running cadence. When your body is working with gravity, it’s easier to increase your next leg down and stride frequency. 

Start by running downhill accelerations of 100-200 meters long. Pick a gradual or moderate downhill slope, preferably on grass or a softer surface to attenuate impact forces.

Run each stride with the fastest turnover you can handle, accelerating throughout the hill until you’re at the bottom. Complete 4-6 reps.

After a few weeks, extend the stride by continuing on the flat ground after the downhill, trying to maintain the same max running cadence you achieve on the downhill.

5. Practice Your Arm Swing

Did you know that one of the most effective means how to improve your cadence while running actually has to do with your arms? When we run, our arms drive our legs forward. In other words, the rate of your arm swing dictates your stride rate. When you pump your arms faster, your feet will follow suit.

One of the best drills to increase the speed of your arm swing is to incorporate descending weighted arm swings into your strength training workouts.

6. Pedal Your Heart Out

Harkening back to the notion of RPMs cycling, you can actually help train your legs to move faster by doing indoor cycling at a fast cadence. Drop the resistance to something light, and work on your turnover. Aim to maintain a cadence of 180 or above.

Eager to run faster? Now that you know how to increase cadence while running, start out by counting your steps on your next run to figure out your individual running cadence.

Cadence and Injury Risk

Increasing cadence can be very effective for reducing the injury risk associated with over-striding.

What is over-striding?

Over-striding is where your feet land or strike the ground, too far in front of your centre of mass. So, why is this a problem? When this happens, it creates a slight braking effect, which can have several negative effects:

  • First, it reduces efficiency by increasing ground contact time – the time your feet spend in contact with the ground
  • Second, it disrupts your natural running rhythm.
  • Third, it increases injury risk – especially when you land too far in front of the centre of mass, with an extended knee.

So how can you reduce over-striding?

One approach is to focus on technical aspects of running form, so that your foot lands under, or nearer to, your centre of mass.

However, improving technique can be a difficult and slow process. It requires regular feedback and monitoring, and a lot of conscious effort. That said, most runners will see improvement with consistent, purposeful training.

A quicker approach is to work on increasing your running cadence, particularly when this is low we’ll come to this shortly.

Run cadence and over-striding

If you over-stride, then increasing cadence can be beneficial. Research shows that runners can reduce vertical oscillation, and ground contact time and reduce the breaking impulse by increasing their cadence.

Does a low stride rate mean you are over-striding?

Is a low cadence always bad? While low stride rates are linked to over-striding, a low cadence doesn’t always mean that you’re over-striding, running speed has to be considered.

How To Increase Cadence And Reduce Injuries

  • Start by gradually increasing cadence over weeks.
  • To do this, start by increasing the stride rate by ~3-5% during your easy/moderate pace runs (ideally twice per week). You might find this easier if you do this for short intervals during your run. As an example, you could alternate between 3-5minutes run at a 3-5% higher cadence, and 3-5minutes at your normal stride rate.
  • As this gets easier, increase the length of these intervals, until you can maintain this throughout the run.
  • If you’re still overstriding, try increasing the stride rate by a further 3-5%.
  • One point to note here: don’t make too many changes and seek advice if you’re unsure.

Remember, that cadence should increase as the pace increases, so you may need to increase this at faster speeds as well.

Cadence And Running Efficiency

Research has shown there is a link between stride frequency and running efficiency (2-5). For this reason, increasing run cadence has gained attention as a way to improve running efficiency.

So, will this make you a quicker and more efficient runner? This really depends on “your” optimal cadence, and also your training experience.

 

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