In running, pace and cadence are two key metrics that could help you not only in improving your performance but in reducing your risk of injury, too. Expert running coach and Founder of New Levels Coaching, Lewis Moses, helps us take a deep dive into all things pacing and cadence to help you find out how you can become a faster and more efficient runner.
What is cadence in running?
In running, cadence refers to how many steps you take per minute. Your cadence will be presented to you as a number, with the most desirable cadence being around 180 (although we’ll get onto this later).
How do I measure my running cadence?
If you’re looking for the best way to measure your running cadence, Lewis explains, “Running cadence is calculated as the number of steps you make per minute when running (SPM). This can be hard to measure, but there are certain devices out there which will measure your running cadence.”
One of the best ways to measure your true cadence is with the INCUS | NOVA device. Most cadence sensors measure from one side of your body and guess that the other side is doing the same thing. However, this is rarely true as most runners will have some form of muscular imbalance and won’t run symmetrically. INCUS | NOVA achieves the most accurate cadence by measuring left and right strides separately.
What is a good cadence when running?
Lewis explains that, “Many running experts would suggest that something around 180 (steps per minute) is a good running cadence. Generally, most elite runners tend to have a cadence between 170-190, but there have been cases when elite runners fall out of this range and still perform well.”
However, if you realise that your cadence isn’t within this range, Lewis has good news. “With cadence, I personally don’t try to fix anything that isn’t broken. Sometimes, when people try to consciously change their cadence, it can have a negative impact on their performance, so I prefer to look at what underpins cadence and then work on these factors. For example, we will include running drills, strength and conditioning, plyometrics and mobility work into their training plan, with the aim being to improve these areas, which could then improve their cadence or stride length.”
If you’re looking to run faster, it’s important to note that pace and cadence aren’t inseparable. You may think that if you take more steps per minute (i.e. a higher cadence) that your pace would increase, but this isn’t necessarily true as stride length is also something to take into account.
Lewis explains, “Logically, if you increase the number of steps you take when running, you will be moving faster, however this doesn’t always equate to a faster overall pace. For example, you may increase your cadence when running uphill, taking smaller steps, but it’s likely that your pace will slow. A higher cadence will often lead to better ground contact time and more force being generated, which is why we would assume this would then lead to a faster pace. The counter argument to this is that if people move away from their natural running style or natural cadence, they can become less efficient.”
Can cadence affect your chances of getting injured?
Some runners believe that achieving the perfect cadence is a good way to prevent injuries. One review of several scientific studies found that increased stride rate (cadence) appears to reduce the magnitude of several key biomechanical factors associated with running injuries. Generally, if you have a higher cadence and take smaller steps, the shock absorption of key joints will be smaller and so you’ll be less likely to injure them.
Lewis says, “If people are struggling with injuries, they may want to look at their running style or their running stride, as these could help to identify what is causing the injury. For example, if someone is over-striding, they would have a lower cadence and this in turn could be causing an injury. If this were the case, the athlete in question may want to look at cadence retraining drills, to try and alter that stride length slightly.”
What is a good pace for running?
Unlike cadence, pace refers to how fast you run over a given distance in a given time. In the UK, there is a split between people measuring pace in kilometres and in miles. Pace is most often measured by how many minutes it takes to run 1 mile or 1 kilometre, depending on which you choose to use.
Also unlike cadence, there is no ideal pace for running. Lewis explains, “Pace is very individual and it would be impossible to suggest one set pace for every athlete.” If you are trying to decide a good pace for running, Lewis has this advice: “Runners should be varying their pace, rather than just running at one pace all the time. Runners can do this by varying the type of training they do, such as easy runs, interval sessions, hill sessions, fartlek or tempo sessions.”
If you find that you often settle into the same natural pace when running, there could be a scientific explanation behind this. New research published in Current Biology found that humans run at the most energy-efficient speed, regardless of distance. By combining data from runners monitored in a lab along with 37,000 runs recorded on wearable fitness trackers, scientists found that a human’s natural tendency is to run at a speed that conserves caloric loss - something that racers seeking to shave time off their miles will have to overcome.
Lewis says, “I believe runners should vary their pace when training. By varying the training intensity, you will be able to train the different energy systems, which in turn can improve performance. Far too many runners fall into the trap of running at just one pace, often their natural pace, but I strongly believe runners should train at different intensities to get the most from their training.”
How to read pace in running
If you use a fitness watch or smart device like the INCUS | NOVA, you will be able to measure your pace in running. If it takes you ten minutes to run one mile, you’ll be given a figure that looks like this: 10’00/mile. From here you can predict race times, as a 10-minute mile average will give you a 31-minute 5k time, 62-minute 10k time, and a 2:11:00 half marathon.
Using a running pace calculator can help you to calculate what your average pace should be if you want to finish a race in a certain time, and can be useful for predicting race finish times if you have an average pace in mind.
When it comes to pacing and cadence, Lewis has the following expert advice: “My top tip when it comes to pace would be not to go off too hard or fast. So many runners talk about ‘getting time in the bank’ but this can be a costly mistake. Rather than seeing it as banking time, see it as borrowing too much from the bank, almost like going into your overdraft or reserves.
The only way to conserve energy having gone off too hard is to slow down or stop and this will have a detrimental effect on performance. I work with runners to get them to control their pace in training, which will help them do the same in races. A negative split is not just for elites, anyone can do it.
In relation to cadence, I would say if you’re thinking of trying to change your cadence, you must appreciate that it will take time. Don’t expect a quick fix or overnight results - you will have to be patient and continue to do the right things consistently.”
About the author: Alex Parren is a Freelance Health & Fitness writer as well as a qualified Personal Trainer and Nutritionist.