Adventures at 180 steps per minute

last week I blogged about my great run, anatomy of the perfect run and one of the elements that made it great was my experiment with cadence. I have heard from a variety of random sources that the optimum cadence for running is 180 steps per minute.

Not being very good at just doing as I am told, I wanted to know a bit more about who came up with this number and what factors were taken into account in deciding what was optimum.

The idea was originated by Dr. Jack Daniels. (No, really). Dr. Daniels was a Pentathlon medalist in 1956 and 1960. Since then he has become a professor of physical education and his doctorate is in exercise physiology. During the 1984 Olympics, Daniels and his wife analysed the cadence rate of the runners throughout the prelims, qualifying heats and finals and concluded that the average steps per minute of these elite runners was 184 steps per minute, rising to 200 spm over shorter distances.

Over the next few years, Daniels continued to research this discovery and included his findings as part of his running philosophy in his 1998 book Daniels’ Running Formula, currently in its 3rd edition. In this he says:

“One reason I strongly emphasise trying to run with a strike rate around 180 steps per minute is to minimise the landing shock associated with running”.

“The slower the leg turnover, the more time you are spending in the air, the higher you elevate body mass, the harder you hit the ground on the next landing. Believe me, it is during the impact associated with hitting the ground that many little injuries occur.”


A number of studies have since tested this theory and shown that, indeed, a higher cadence rate is linked to a lower rate of injuries among runners.

For today’s run I downloaded a metronome app and gave running at a higher cadence a go. Daniels’ research states that the average runner has a cadence of 160 spm and that you should try increasing it gradually, so today I aimed for 170 spm. My goal for this run was to run 8k at a consistent pace of 8min/km (12.5 mins per mile). I was also running in pouring rain and a headwind.

At first, the higher cadence felt odd. On the downhills, it felt a bit like I was running on the spot and after 2kms I realised my glutes were working much harder than usual. The increased cadence really began to pay dividends on the uphills though, making it easier to maintain a constant pace and I was definitely running more lightly. After 6kms, I realised my shoulder blades were getting tired as, of course, my arms were also working at a higher cadence. As I was going at a relatively slow pace, my strides were very short, but I can definitely see how a slight increase in stride length can result in an increased speed.

More to the point, I really enjoyed my run and achieved my pace goal so I will definitely be paying more attention to my cadence in future and work on getting up to the magic 180!


2 thoughts on “Adventures at 180 steps per minute

  1. It may feel slightly unnatural initially but keep at it. Took me about 2 months to properly get the hang of higher cadence but it was worth the effort: racing more, racing better, and for once, finishing a season with no big injuries (couple of black toenails don’t count, they are bound to happen on the downhills of mountain trails).

    Liked by 1 person

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