Cadence Running Meaning: Why Higher Cadence is Better

The basic cadence running meaning is defined by most researchers as ‘the number of steps you take per minute during running’. Some runners have a high cadence (170 and more steps per minute), whereas other runners have a low cadence (160 and less steps per minute).

It’s also evident that a higher running cadence may be more economical and safer on the knees and hips than a much lower running cadence. So, what is the magic cadence-number that’s on record for doing the most good for improving running performance and injury prevention outcomes?

Cadence Running Meaning: Why Higher Cadence is Better
High vs Low Cadence – Running with a higher cadence between 180-200 steps per minute (regardless of running distance), especially while landing with a forefoot strike, may be a magic combination that produces robust and durable results for accelerated progress in performance gains and injury prevention.

According to the experts, the ideal running cadence rate should fall somewhere between 180-195 steps per minute whereas a running cadence rate lower than 160 steps per minute is indicative of an over-stride running gait (foot lands too far ahead of the body) as well as increased ground-contact time, both of which do not consistently boost performance and may also weaken your chances of avoiding running-related knee and hip injuries.

How do we know all this?

Here’s some confirmation that a higher cadence has big implications for performance progress and injury prevention in running.

Firstly, from a performance perspective, the BEST runners in the world seem to have a cadence rate that consistently falls between the range of 180-200 steps per minute. Here’s some of the raw data on this:

Tirunesh Dibaba (10km road) – 190 steps per min.

Eluid Kipchoge (marathon) – 185 steps per min.

Galen Rupp (5km) – 187 steps per min

Bernard Lagat (5km) – 195 steps per min

Haile Gebrselassie (marathon) – 197 step per minute

Even though these are just a few examples, the runners mentioned above are consistently the top performers as well as prominent record holders. From this, the obvious thing to say is that because the most successful runners in the world appear to have a higher cadence, knowing this kind of data-trend makes the rationale for if you’re going after real gains in run performance and if you want to dramatically improve your race times, you may want to aim for a cadence between 180 to 195, even 200 steps per minute.

Higher Running Cadence Means Less Stress on the Knees and Hips

Research into biomechanics also confirms the protective effects of running with a higher cadence of at least 170 steps per minute as it was found to have immediate effects in safeguarding the knees from the brute impact forces linked to runners knee.

For instance, Heiderscheit et al., discovered that a higher run cadence produced strong effects in relieving mechanical stress off the knees and hips by decreasing ground-contact time, thereby increasing flight-time (the feet spend more time in the air than on the ground). The net effect of this is less threatening impact forces on the knees and hips, especially since less ground-contact time during running coincides with reduced collision and frictional forces as well.

More specifically, Hiederscheit et al., found that increasing preferred run cadence by 10% naturally reduced stride length by bringing initial foot strike position closer to the body. This effectively minimized over-striding which directly dialed down high brake forces, mechanical work and compressive impact on the knee. Even increasing preferred cadence by 5% was enough to reduce mechanical work on the knee by a whopping 20%, as per the study. Why?

The researchers found that a higher running cadence prompted greater flexion and less stiffness at the knee-joint at touchdown. Additional extensive research has confirmed and affirmed that greater knee flexion during running is beneficial in so many capacities whereby a flexed knee at touchdown makes the knee-joint work as a better shock absorber, makes the knee-joint more secure through the phases of running gait and allows more elastic energy power to be drawn from the Achilles tendon. But most important, a flexed knee at touchdown helps guide the direction of your foot strike, allowing the foot to land closer to your center of gravity, helping to prevent further accumulated stress and strain on the knee. Ultimately, think of increased cadence as a pressure-relief valve that reliably reduces stress and strain from the knees when you run.

In the final equation, the researchers placed special emphasis on instructing runners knee sufferers to increase their cadence as a sustainable means to provide effective relief as doing so prompts mechanical realignments that places stronger protections on the knee.

Overall, this line of evidence strongly indicates that reducing loading on the legs, especially the knees during running via increased cadence may enable a runner who’s grappling with runners knee to continue running without aggravating existing symptoms and could spur a dramatic recovery. This is why increased run cadence should be a continuity priority.

Increased Run Cadence May Converse Energy

It may seem as if taking more steps per minute during running would be more labor intensive and thus diminish economic sufficiency, especially since subjects who increased their preferred run cadence reported a greater rate of perceived effort! Realistically though, most researchers reason that the increase in perceived effort reflects the increase in attentional focus, not actual energy costs. Put differently, increasing run cadence may seem like more work at first, but your body is not using more energy to do it.

In the same study, the researchers reached this conclusion after discovering that increasing preferred run cadence by 10% did not increase oxygen consumption, or heart rate.

Final Thoughts…

When it comes to making significant gains in run performance without getting injured, there’s no one perfect formula, but we know the elements that are necessary to help you achieve more positive, than negative outcomes on both fronts. The most important takeaway here is that increased cadence, by its very nature, has been credited with producing an assortment of mechanical outputs that help create the conditions where safer footfalls during running can take hold and can be used as a weapon to go after harder, longer miles and faster paces more safely. I’d also like to highlight that these findings coincide with other work that has shown that increasing run cadence may reduce the risk of shin fractures!

What are the best ways to develop a higher cadence rate and sustain it while running?

Forefoot Strike vs Heel Strike

Foot strike pattern in running directly influences cadence rate. For instance, one of the natural aspects of forefoot running is a higher cadence! Simply by making the conscious effort to make initial ground-contact on the balls of your foot (forefoot strike), not your heel (heel strike) can help boost your cadence. Here is what a proper forefoot strike landing pattern should look like in running.

Run Barefoot

A handful of studies have shown that running barefoot, especially on pavement (here are my videos where I talk at great-lengths about the enormous benefits of running barefoot pavement) also promotes a high cadence by fostering more reflexive footstep responses that are also protective against so many injurious outcomes!

More From Run Forefoot:

Knee Pain From Running – Find out how heel strike running leads to osteoarthritic knees across time.

Forefoot Running Shoes – Read my reviews on the best barefoot like shoes for forefoot running.

Overpronation  – Learn how to avoid overpronating with this simple suggestion!

The Role of the Achilles Tendon in Forefoot Running –  Learn how forefoot runners use the Achilles tendon to their advantage.

Why Take Smaller Steps – Learn why shortening your stride during forefoot running takes load off the hips and knees.

Don’t Overthink How You Run – Understand why it’s important to avoid the pitall of obsessing over your mechanics while you run.

References :

Derrick TR., Hamill J and Caldwell GE. Energy absorption of impacts during running at various stride lengths. Med Sci Sports Exerc, 1998; 30(1):128-35.

Heiderscheit et al. Effects of step rate manipulation on joint mechanics during running. Med Sci Sports Exerc, 2011;43(2):296-302.

Kilpatrick et al. Heart rate and metabolic responses to moderate-intensity aerobic exercise: a comparison of graded walking and ungraded jogging at a constant perceived exterion. J Sports Sci, 2009; 27(5):509-16.

McMahon TA., Valiant G and Frederick EC. Groucho Running. J Appl Physiol, 1985; 62(6):2326-37.

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Bretta Riches

"I believe the forefoot strike is the engine of endurance running..."

BSc Neurobiology; MSc Biomechanics candidate, ultra minimalist runner & founder of RunForefoot. I was a heel striker, always injured. I was inspired by the great Tirunesh Dibaba to try forefoot running. Now, I'm injury free. This is why I launched Run Forefoot, to advocate the health & performance benefits of forefoot running and to raise awareness on the dangers of heel striking, because the world needs to know.
Bretta Riches

P.S. Don't forget to check out the Run Forefoot Facebook Page, it's a terrific place to ask questions about forefoot running, barefoot running and injury. I'm always happy to help!