Peloton member running on a Peloton Tread indoors

Are You Paying Attention to Your Running Cadence? Here’s Why it Matters

Maintain an effective and impactful pace—and pick it up over time.

By Eric ArnoldJuly 12, 2023


Running is perhaps the most accessible form of exercise anyone can do—just go outside. After all, it’s what we’re evolutionarily designed for. Humans are capable of running a marathon—or more—because our physiology allows us to maintain a consistent pace over long stretches of distance and time. It’s how early humans caught and consumed tasty four-legged animals, all of which are faster than us in a sprint—but can’t maintain a steady pace for several minutes or hours, like we can.

Even though we’re biologically designed for it, maintaining a consistent running pace requires practice. And if running is part of your exercise routine, finding your correct running cadence is key to setting and improving upon your fitness goals. Just like shoe size, running cadence is a little bit different for everyone—as is the process of improving it.

Nevertheless, cadence is one of the best metrics to pay attention to, whether you still consider yourself a beginner runner, you’re training for yet another marathon, or anywhere in between. 

What is Cadence (in Running)?

In running, your cadence is the number of times per minute your foot hits the ground. And your cadence is your own, no one else’s. Someone else might have a longer stride or choose to run in a hillier area—both of which can impact cadence. But once you have your baseline established, you can start figuring out how to improve both your cadence and your speed.

Running Cadence vs. Speed

Improving your cadence over time isn’t just about running faster. While speed is certainly related, what you’re really focusing on is the number of times per minute each foot hits the ground. So, cadence and speed are correlated, certainly, but they’re not the same thing.

In fact, you might run at the same cadence as a friend but both be running at different speeds. Or, your speed might match up but one of you is taking more steps per minute.

“In running there is a more overarching number that fits the vast majority of runners, and that’s 90 steps per minute per leg or 180 total,” Peloton instructor Becs Gentry says. Maintaining 178 to 182 steps per minute, she says, “is thought to help minimize impact on the skeletal system and therefore encourage good running form no matter the speed you move at.”

In other words, achieving a proper cadence is as much about maintaining your long-term physical health as it is about improving your running ability.

How to Find Your Running Cadence

Finding your running cadence is like so many other athletic pursuits, be it a straight drive off the tee, a good freestyle stroke in the pool, or a smooth tennis backhand—once you have it, you have it. But you have to work on achieving that target number and practice adhering to it.

First things first, you need to find where you are. The best way to do this is with a pedometer or by using a fitness device connected to your phone. You can also do it the old-fashioned way, and just count how many times one of your feet—left or right—hits the ground as you run for 30 seconds at a comfortable pace. Multiply that number by two to get to one minute, then double that number again (for each foot), and that’s your cadence. So, say your right foot hits the ground 40 times in 30 seconds, 40x2x2 equals a cadence of 160.

Of course, there could be any number of reasons why your running cadence is higher or lower on a given day. Maybe you just ate or didn’t have a great night’s sleep or it’s cooler today than it was yesterday. So, try measuring your cadence a few different times over the course of a week or two and average the numbers. That’ll give you the best sense of what your starting cadence is.

What is a Good Running Cadence?

As Becs mentions above, it’s typical to try and hit a running cadence of about 180. Some attribute this to a gold standard set by a coach in the 1984 Summer Olympics who measured the cadence of several athletes. But 180 may not be realistic for you—and that’s certainly ok. More important is understanding that once you establish your baseline and your goal, getting yourself there isn’t a matter of pushing hard right out of the gates.

For example, let’s say your starting cadence is 150 and your target is 170. You shouldn’t try to hit 170 after your first cadence measurement. Instead, try to increase your cadence by about five percent on two or three runs per week. So, in that first week, shoot for a 157 cadence. Once you get really comfortable holding that cadence, you can add another five percent for your next few runs.

Over time, your body will tell you what sort of cadence is your personal, ideal sweet spot. It may be short of 180, it may be over that—but you’ll know it when you feel comfortable holding that cadence for an extended period and start to see your speed increase as a result.

What is a Beginner Running Cadence?

There’s no specific starting goal for cadence other than just to do the workout and make sure you feel good. In fact, your only goal when you start should be to establish an honest baseline. That’s why determining your starting cadence as an average over a few runs is an important first step. The more certain you are of your starting point—whether it’s 50 or 150—the better. From there, continue building by five percent every week or two on your runs.

“If you are working on improving your cadence, work on it all for all runs,” Becs says. “It is a very simple change to add in.”

What Cadence Do Professional Runners Run At?

Although a running cadence of 180 is considered to be optimal, there’s no sense comparing yourself to professional runners, whether we’re talking about a sprinter like Usain Bolt or a marathoner like Paula Radcliffe. It’s also important to remember that there’s plenty of disagreement among the experts as to what an optimal cadence is. After all, sprinting isn’t the same as distance running or even trail running.

What the pros do that you should emulate, however, is pay attention to detail. For starters, that means maintaining good running form. Also, professional runners looking to boost their cadence maintain their focus on more steps and shorter strides. That’s much more manageable on longer runs. Lastly, they perform drills—doing high knees, butt kicks or skips in your warmup can help with your form and stride. You can also set aside, say, five minutes of every leisurely run to focus solely on maintaining cadence and nothing else—just get dialed in for those few minutes, then enjoy the rest of the run.

How to Increase Running Cadence

Of course, increasing your cadence five percent every week or two is easier said than done—probably because it’s not particularly fun to do math while you’re running. But there are tools that can help.

Becs recommends using a metronome, like this one online, which you can pull up on your phone and set to make a beat. From there, your only job is to make sure a foot hits the ground each time you hear the metronome’s pulse. The more you get used to repeating a certain cadence, the more natural it will feel over time and, eventually, you won’t need the metronome anymore.

“The improvement should happen relatively quickly and stay in place for whatever speed or distance of runner you are,” Becs says. “There may be a few runs of ‘practice’ where you take the time to tune into your footfall to count the steps. Just run steady, and perhaps don’t focus on speed. Steps per minute is not going to change as your speed does.”

So, just set that metronome on your phone, time your footfalls with the beat, and you’ll be well on your way.

The Takeaway

If you enjoy running more for the break from all the other everyday obligations life brings us, and you don’t want to spend time thinking about your cadence, that’s understandable. Doing some running is better than doing no running at all.

But if running is a key aspect of your overall fitness routine, improving your cadence is key. “You are going to benefit from learning to be in tune with your body to practice getting a good rhythm,” Becs says. “It will help your overall performance exponentially, no matter what type of run you do.”