180 strides a minute for runners

Simple question.  Do runners need to try to run 180 strides per minute?

I don’t know the answer.  I do know that Jack Daniels did an informal data analysis at the Olympics one year and found that across athletes, events and gender everyone was running 180 strides per minute.  Pretty interesting.

But then there is this evidence, from Alex Hutchinson of Sweat Science, that shows that strides per minute is a function of pace run.  And for him and others (including Amby Burfoot) it is actually higher than 180 strides per second.

What got me thinking about this topic was an email from an adult runner who is also a triathlete and they used the word “cadences” just like a cyclist would.  This person also highlighted that their lifetime 10k PR came after they switched to Newtons…though in my humble opinion those shoes are like any other tool – you have to use them as intended (Newton link).  And to add balance to this article, New Balance has a great resource on running as well – check out this video and this site.

I’m working on trying to run 180 strides per minute myself, in part because I know Bart Sessa has had great success making this concept a cornerstone of his high school program.  But the flip side is my friend Phil Wharton says I have a 1,500m stride and that makes me feel better when I’m trying desperately to get to 180 strides per minute.  Perhaps 180 isn’t the right cadence when I’m running as slow as I am now…which is pretty slow.

Anyway, something to consider and what I am sure of is that one workout that would help with this is a multi-pace fartlek, on where you run three, four, even five different paces in a workout.

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  • http://twitter.com/BrianRunCoach Brian Martin

    G’day Jay, for my 2 cents worth I reckon 180 is too fast for easy running and leads to shorter and weaker striding. In the running technique coaching work I do we always take cadence at each speed progression. If I had to pick a benchmark I’d say 180 is usually at about tempo pace for most runners (relative to their ability which varies a lot). For 5k and Mile pace it’ll be higher again. Discussed it a bit more on the blog here http://www.runningtechniquetips.com/2011/09/stride-rate-training-and-coaching-implications/ Regards Brian

  • http://www.somastruct.com/ James

    Like Brian said, I think it depends on the desired pace. 180 steps/min might be a good general recommendation to keep runners from over striding, particularly at faster paces. There was a study done in 2011 by Heiderscheit et al which Alex mentioned also that showed increasing a runner’s cadence 5% to 10% above their preferred cadence reduced loading forces on the knees and hips, so there may be a benefit in terms of injury prevention to shooting for a faster step rate. I’ve written some of my thoughts on that here http://www.somastruct.com/running-cadence-and-injuries/ Ever since I started paying attention to cadence I’ve noticed my form has changed somewhat (hopefully for the better) because before that I think I was depending too much on stride length for speed.

  • Alex Hutchinson

    Thanks for the shout-out, Jay! I’ll add two points. One is that what Daniels actually wrote was that “almost all elite distance runners… tend to stride at about the same rate: 180 OR MORE steps per minute.” So he left himself some wiggle room. :) And indeed, if you look at race data from guys like Kenenisa Bekele, they’re well above 180 — e.g. maintaining 190 throughout a 10,000-meter race and shifting up to 216 for the final lap. (see the data in Steve Magness’s post here: http://www.scienceofrunning.com/2010/11/speed-stride-length-x-stride-frequency.html). So there’s really nothing magic about 180 — it’s a lower threshold of what you’ll observe in world-class distance runners WHEN THEY’RE RACING.

    Also, for anyone not convinced that cadence changes at different paces, here’s some more data, taken from Robert Chapman’s elite group in Indiana:

    It’s very clear: the faster they run, the quicker their cadence gets. So it’s very hard for me to understand why the cadence used by Olympic runners traveling at 4:00-5:00 per mile should be the same as what I use when jogging at 8:00 per mile!

    Lastly, I agree that multi-pace fartleks are a great way to get a feel for how your cadence varies, and to tinker with it in small doses!

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_KRIXL7URWLJ2LBS4IM4R3EHREA Matthew

    Good posts and good comments. I remember reading an analysis of a race that showed the winner (I want to say Lagat, but I don’t remember) that he was able to both increase his cadence and stride length in his kick, to come from behind and win. (The others only increased one or the other.)
    Having seen a lot of HS races, there is tons of overstriding going on. The general sense I get is both bad form, and the sense that to run faster, you have to take bigger strides. So I think having kids pay attention to cadence is important.

  • Adam St.Pierre

    In my experience as a running biomechanist at the Boulder Center for Sports Medicine, stride rate will vary with speed, but that stride rates below 160spm result in higher rates of injury, particularly shin splints, stress fractures, and PFPS. Even at a 12-13 min/mile pace we recommend that runners maintain at least 160spm. As a runner increases speed, their stride rate should also increase somewhat.

  • http://twitter.com/BrianRunCoach Brian Martin

    Good call Adam <160 strides per minute is a good benchmark or trigger for suggesting a runner increase their cadence

  • Doug Petrick

    This is all good stuff. I coach HS kids cross/indoor/outdoor and the kids have become more efficient- better form- smoother turnover when we work on cadence in small doses. We do 150 accels (50 gradual accel- 50 close to max accel- 50 gradual decel) about 5 reps every 10-14 days in each one of the 3 running seasons. (You can search for Jay’s video on this site and running times article on accels.) We have been doing this since last September and for the HS level, giving the kids a small – 50 meters worth – to really think about turnover, form, fast as you can but relaxed has improved their cadence and turnover. Its easier for them to digest and understand and get “feedback” from other parts of the body…shoulders, neck, head, arms, hips. At the age group we have, all kids have really come to understand running relaxed and NOT overstriding while kicking up cadence. When we transition to other workouts that involve increased cadence- tempos, circuits, repeats, etc.- their form is greatly improved. This is not the only thing we do for turnover, but the most “cost effective” one in terms of time. These accel’s take only about 10 minutes total every 10-14, but the payoff has been dramatic in terms of all distances they run and how the sense of pace and cadence has improved. I am curious how this translates to runners at the masters level for half marathon training and above. Any masters coaches/athletes find accels or strides or something similar an integral part of 13.1 mile training and above?

  • Al Lacey

    Max King(US Mountain Marathoner), told me at a running camp that there are two factors to take into consideration with stride rate. 1-Stride Rate, and 2-Energy Usage and Efficiency. He had a graph that kind of looked like an X, where 180 strides per minute intersected with the efficiency line, proving that the 180(or as he explained 170-190) strides, is considered the most efficient stride rate. He also explained that if you’re doing good with the form you have, changing it might cause injuries(if you’re not already having them), but if you’re having injuries, then change it. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

  • http://twitter.com/mdrunners MDRunners.com

    SF and SL have an inverse relationship.

  • thomas_t

    Mathew–I don’t know of this
    is the analysis you were referring to but here is an analysis that Steve Magness did of length and rate in the 2007 WC 10,000m. I’m not sure about 180 strides per minute my self, but I think it is a decent coaching cue as long as you don’t confuse the

    finger with the moon .

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_KRIXL7URWLJ2LBS4IM4R3EHREA Matthew

    >to really think about turnover, form, fast as you can but relaxed
    I think the “relaxed” is a real key to keep in mind!

  • Mick

    Working on fundamentals, including stride rate, is something most should work on. The lower the stride rate, the more important gradual improvement is. Improving stride rate should also reduce overstriding.

  • http://www.facebook.com/trent.stellingwerff Trent Stellingwerff

    I’ll have some different insights based on my work with Olympic rowers, where stroke rate can vary from 16 (in training) up over 40 when racing! Now that is a huge range compared to runners. (stroke rate = steps / minute or cadence)

    In rowers, what we are finding, is that each rower has a natural stroke rate that is most efficient for them over a 2k RACE distance, but is somewhere between 35 and 45 strokes per minute, that is probably due to fiber typing (fast vs. slower twitch rowers), and historical training profile.

    What is more interesting, is optimizing training around stroke rates. For exampe the work done to isolate muscle endurance (very low stroke rates, with huge recovery periods in the stroke…eg. stroke 18 over a 2 hour row) versus cardiovascular endurance (e.g. strokes over 25 over a 2 hour row). Remember runners equivalent is something like 90 to 100 steps/minute (per leg). Same has been started to be done in cycling, where sometimes cyclists will grind out at 60 rpm up a climb for training to isolate muscle endurance properties (they would never do this in a race however)….

    can the same be done with runners? Not sure with running specifically, but perhaps in the weight room…. long story short: lots of research to be done!

  • http://twitter.com/sportinjurymatt Matt Phillips

    Great comments on a topic that is still confusing many runners out there. As far I see it, the turning of 180spm into the magic number is another example of the power and lure that an “answer to all your problems” piece of training advice has. It is by no coincidence that “one size fits all” running styles have embraced it with open arms as, lets face it, quick fixes sell. For runners who have IC relatively far infront of their hips (e.g. beginners running like they walk) increasing stride rate by 5% at a time can help encourage the foot to land closer and discourage the characteristic heavy heelstrike, but setting 180spm as a central need for all runners (especially at all speeds!) promotes in my opinion injury. As always, it’s a case of working with the body infront of you, as opposed to putting on blinkers & striving to reach an ideal. That’s my opinion anyway. :-)

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  • Rich Davis

    Jay, as both a Category 1 cyclist and a sub 14:00 5K runner I have considered the 180 many times and from the runner perspective I get no answer. The information is available from the cycling side however. Cadence changes based on power output (wattage). The cyclist riding at an easy pace is more efficient at a slower cadence, and conversely more efficient at a higher cadence when wattage is higher. Cadence varies by individual, but for me, a cadence of ~140-150 was most efficient when easy riding(<200 watts), and on the high side a cadence of 200+, even 220+ was most efficient at wattages over 400watts. These measurements are both from observations on the road, and from the lab as well.
    I hope this helps.