What Should My Cadence Be? And Why is It So Confusing?

Updated: Apr 14

What if I told you cadence is easier than you think it is?

Would you even believe me?

Or would you roll your eyes saying, "puuh-lease! You've got to be kidding me. I have proof it's impossible. My garmin watch says…"

Aaaannnddd at that point I would politely interrupt.

Because as much as GPS watches are a blessing, cadence seems to be the one thing they can't consistently get right.

So is your data even correct?

Or is your garmin lying to you?

(sneaky bastard…)

So put your GPS watch on its charging station (or where ever it goes for a recharging snooze) and let's have a runner-to-runner chat.

Your watch might get a little offended by this blog post, but between you and me, it'll be just fine.

Let's explore together the basics of cadence, why you care, and how it's way easier than you think it is.

You ready? Let's go.

What is cadence?

Cadence is essentially how many steps you take, so you can think of it as "step frequency" which especially makes sense since it's measured in "steps per minute". From all the data and research out there, we know that the typical range is 150-180 SPM for recreational runners and around 120 spm for elite runners.

And while those numbers are nice and all, they don't necessarily give us a picture of what cadence looks like "in the wild" on our daily run.

So maybe think of cadence this way…

If you run 100m on a track but pretend you're a leaping gazelle, where you are truly leaping from one foot to another, you're going to take fewer steps compared to…

Running that same 100m but pretending you're a sneaky mouse and taking small, frequent steps.

Hang in there with me, running fit fam…

These two (silly) visuals get across the two extremes: The leaping gazelle has a low cadence, taking fewer, but bigger strides compared to the sneaking mouse who has a higher cadence, taking small but many, many more strides to cover the same 100m.

Did the lightbulb turn on?

I'm not saying run like a sneaking mouse or a leaping gazelle, unless that's your thing. (I'm not judging.) But now you've at least got a visual of what a high or low cadence looks like over the exact same distance. Moving on to…

Why is cadence important?

Let me share these quotes from this week's research article:

Musgjerd, T., Anason, J., Rutherford, D., & Kernozek, T.

Effect of Increasing Running Cadence on Peak Impact Force in an Outdoor Environment.

"An estimated 56% of recreational runners sustain a running-related injury related to the high impact forces in running. Increasing..cadence…while maintaining a consistent speed has been shown to be an effective way to lower impact forces which may reduce injury risk.

It was hypothesized that as cadence increases, peak force would decrease (Musgeird)."

What they're proposing:

Lower the high impact that running has on the human body by taking smaller, more frequent steps.

By doing this, you decreased risk of injury.