If you’re a regular in spin class, own a Peloton or other indoor cycle, you’re certainly familiar with your RPMs and the ever-present quest to pedal your legs faster and faster. Your pedal stroke rate is your cadence. Now, how to increase cadence while running instead?
Your running speed is a product of your stride length and your cadence. In other words, the longer your stride, the more ground you cover, and the more strides you can take per minute, the more ground you cover.
Increasing your stride length can potentially increase the risk of injury, but increasing your cadence may actually reduce the risk of injury while simultaneously increasing your speed and improving your running pace. Win-win.
In this guide, we will look at how to increase running cadence to help you run faster and nail the PRs you’re after. We will cover:
- What Is Running Cadence?
- Why Should I Increase My Running Cadence?
- 6 Tips for How to Increase Cadence While Running
Let’s jump in!
What Is Running Cadence?
Running cadence refers to the number of steps you take per minute as you run. It is often represented as STP for steps per minute, and may also be thought of as stride rate or stride frequency.
You can determine your running cadence by either counting how many steps you take in a minute while you run, or you can calculate your running cadence by counting how many times your right foot falls while running for 15 seconds.
Multiply this number by 2 to account for both feet. Then, multiply that result by 4 to extrapolate the pace for the full 60 seconds in a minute.
For example, if your right foot lands 22 times in 15 seconds, you take 44 steps with both feet. Then, multiply 44 by 4 to get 176 steps per minute. So, your running cadence would be 176 SPM.
Why Should I Increase My Running Cadence?
Before we discuss how to increase running cadence, it’s important to cover why you might want to increase your running cadence in the first place.
As mentioned, your running cadence is one of two things that determine your pace. In a nutshell, how fast you run is determined by your stride length multiplied by your stride rate, or cadence.
Running speed = stride length x strides rate
To run faster, you can increase your stride length, cadence, or both. However, there’s evidence to suggest that increasing stride length can increase the risk of injuries because it increases impact or loading forces.
In contrast, research suggests that increasing your cadence by about 5-10% above your current stride frequency can reduce the risk of musculoskeletal stress and resultant injuries by reducing the impact and loading on your hip and knee joints, decreasing the braking force when your feet contact the ground and reducing your vertical ossification (bouncing motion).
Essentially, a faster running cadence keeps your feet closer to a position under your body (reducing stride length), which takes stress off the lower limbs, so it’s a healthy and safe way to run faster and smash your PRs.
With this in mind, let’s take a look at how to increase cadence while running.
6 Tips for How to Increase Cadence While Running
Many runners aren’t sure how to increase cadence while running because it’s not something that most coaches or training programs really address explicitly. Although, there are probably things you are already doing in your training that can help increase your running cadence.
Any time you try to change anything about your running form, including increasing your running cadence, it can feel unnatural at first and you can feel like you’re stuck in your head and overthinking every single stride.
This can initially detract from the joy and ease of running but can pay off in the long term. And remember, you don’t have to make drastic shifts all at once.
When approaching how to increase your cadence while running, it’s actually perfectly acceptable—if not more ideal—to increase your running cadence gradually and just do a little bit of dedicated cadence training per run.
Below, we share actionable tips on how to increase cadence while running:
#1: Use a Metronome
There are metronome apps for runners, such as Smart Metronome and Run Tempo, or you can use an actual metronome for music practice to guide the cadence while you run. Like a conductor of an orchestra, the metronome will keep you honest and on track with your running cadence goals.
To begin, settle into your comfortable training pace on a run. Once you’ve reached your steady-state pace, turn on the metronome and simply dial it up or down until it matches your current running cadence.
Then, start to increase the beat by 5%, and try to hold that cadence while you run for the next mile. Afterward, allow your body to run at whatever cadence feels normal.
For example, if you determine your cadence is 160 SPM, increase to 168 SPM (160 x 1.05).
The next time you head out the door, try to hit 2 miles at 168 SPM.
Once your whole run is at 168 steps per minute, increase your running cadence by another 5% for one mile again (168 x 1.05 = 176.4) to 176 SPM.
Again, gradually increase the percentage of your run at this faster cadence until the whole run (perhaps aside from the first few minutes of warm-up) are at your new quicker running cadence.
You can choose to use the metronome the whole run, to ensure you’re stepping in time, or you can shut it off and turn it on periodically while running to see if you’re maintaining the proper cadence.
#2: Run Strides
Running strides after a run is a great way to improve your running form and increase your running cadence.
Focus on quick turnover, as if each footfall lands on hot coals. Pump your arms to drive your legs forward and propel you into the next step.
#3: Jump Rope
You may be surprised to see jumping rope on a list of tips for how to increase cadence while running, but envisioning yourself as the next star in the Rocky films and harnessing your inner boxer can help you.
The key to using jumping rope to increase your cadence is to keep your jumps low and fast. Don’t think of the leisurely jumping rope on elementary school playgrounds; this is an athletic style of jumping rope that trains boxers, soccer players, and other athletes.
#4: Run Downhill
Although you don’t want to do extensive downhill training because it can put excessive stress on your knees and shins, downhill strides can help you increase your running cadence.
When your body is working with gravity, it’s easier to increase your next leg down and stride frequency.
Start by running downhill accelerations of 100-200 meters long. Pick a gradual or moderate downhill slope, preferably on grass or a softer surface to attenuate impact forces.
Run each stride with the fastest turnover you can handle, accelerating throughout the duration of the hill until you’re at the bottom. Complete 4-6 reps.
After a few weeks, extend the stride by continuing on the flat ground after the downhill, trying to maintain the same max running cadence you achieve on the downhill.
#5: Practice Your Arm Swing
Did you know that one of the most effective means for how to improve your cadence while running actually has to do with your arms?
When we run, our arms drive the legs forward. In other words, the rate of your arm swing dictates your stride rate. When you pump your arms faster, your feet will follow suit.
One of the best drills to increase the speed of your arm swing is to incorporate descending weighted arm swings into your strength training workouts.
Here’s how it works:
Grab two pairs of dumbbells—if you’re fairly strong, a pair of 10-pound dumbbells and a pair of 5-pound dumbbells, or if you’re not as fit, a pair of 5-pound dumbbells and a pair of 3-pound dumbbells.
Holding the heavier dumbbells in each hand, rapidly pump your arms in an exaggerated running motion (as if sprinting to the finish of a 100m dash) for 30 seconds. Count how many reps you can do over the 30 seconds.
Keep your core tight and stagger one foot in front of the other for balance if it’s more comfortable.
Take 30 seconds of rest, and then repeat with the lighter dumbbells. Again, count your reps, aiming to beat the number you got for the heavier set by 20% or more.
Finally, drop the weights altogether and repeat the exercise, pumping your arms as vigorously and rapidly as you can. Your arms will feel light, and you should be able to crank out a ton of reps.
Repeat this exercise several times per week. It will build strength, power, and speed in your arm swing that can carry over to your running cadence.
#6: Pedal Your Heart Out
Harkening back to the notion of RPMs cycling, you can actually help train your legs to move faster by doing indoor cycling at a fast cadence. Drop the resistance to something light, and work on your turnover. Aim to maintain a cadence of 180 or above.
Eager to run faster? Now that you know how to increase cadence while running, start out by counting your steps on your next run to figure out your individual running cadence.
For more information on running cadence, check out our article Running Cadence Explained: What Is A Good Running Cadence?