Counting 180 steps

By Keith Bateman

Don’t try to be a metronome!

It is quite often voiced that the ideal to be reached is a set cadence of 180 steps per minute, since this is the bottom end of the range at which a good runner would normally run. This was initially developed by researchers who studied elite runners and has been passed on by coaches and running groups.

However, as the cadence changes according to running speed, acceleration, and leg strength, and as you do not run at the same speed of these elite runners (nor do you have their level of skill or fitness), such advice is incorrect.

Our experience shows us that under normal running conditions, our cadence should be less than 180 at speeds below about 5 minutes per kilometre (8 minutes per mile). It will naturally rise to somewhere in the mid-180s by about 4 minutes 30 seconds per kilometre but this is for someone running with moderately good technique and with a reasonable flight phase.

At faster speeds the cadence will be more susceptible to change due to technique and fitness considerations. If I am fit and strong my cadence can remain at 186 up to speeds of 2:45 per kilometre. However, if I am unfit and tired then the cadence will rise to nearly 200 by 3:30 per kilometre.

In other words, 180 steps per minute is an arbitrary figure and, as mentioned above, cadence should come naturally. Even if setting your cadence to a specific count was a good idea, how would you know what it should be at particular speeds, on different terrain and according to your current technique and fitness?

By all means, measure your cadence indirectly with a smart watch or by video, but check it after your run. Use your cadence as a guide to how well you are running and how fit you are, but don’t change your running to try to achieve a set cadence. Getting fixated on cadence or using a metronome just helps you to count 180+ bad steps.

Learn to land balanced and everything else will adjust naturally around this, including your cadence. A balanced landing is how to find your right cadence The key to reduce an over-stride and increase speed is a balanced landing. This will enable a springy take-off, giving you more airtime, a longer stride and also a higher cadence.