Is 180 the magic number?

A few weeks ago I posted a blog the was titled ‘A little natural running‘. Coach Mick Cairns made the following comment:

“Nice video. Totally agree that doing a few barefoot strides gives you masses of feedback on your running form. Interested to read that the 180 cadence is controversial – everything I’ve read suggests this is a good ball park figure. Having said that I’ve never seen the results of a controlled study”.

It is well accepted by many people, both coaches and athletes, that a cadence of 180 steps per minute is optimal. Where does the number come from?

Dr Jack Daniels is a famous running coach from the USA. In 1984 at the Los Angeles Olympics he made an observation that elite athletes, competing in running events from 800m up to the marathon, ran with a stride rate of 180 steps per minute or more. It seems Daniels’ observation may have been misinterpreted by many athletes and coaches who believe you should run with a stride rate of 180 steps per minute at all times. Cadence however is known to change with speed and is probably influenced by other factors also.

There are a lot of novice runners out there who overstride and run with a less than optimal cadence. Daniels noticed this. Many novice runners do have a cadence of less than 180 resulting in long slow strides and he suggests that these athletes work on a ‘shorter, lighter stride’.

There does not appear to be any evidence that 180 is the optimal cadence for every person. Experienced runners have an optimal cadence of their own. At a given pace it seems an experienced runner will subconsciously choose a combination of stride length and stride rate that maximises efficiency. What we don’t know is if inexperienced runners are able to do the same thing.

So, as Mick says, a cadence of 180 may be used as a ball park figure to aim for if your stride rate is below this. It is by no means the magic number it has been made out to be. With experience, experimentation running at different speeds and form work under the watchful eye of a good coach, you will develop a stride rate and stride length that is optimal for you under various conditions. 

All the best to those competing in the Dambuster Duathlon this weekend. Give it heaps! Here is a little motivation from Kris Gemmell to help you with your final preparation. It’s a little old but I still love it.

Just a reminder that we will be training at Mile End Stadium again tomorrow night. Remember your £2.90 entry fee! It will a session that will suit those competing this weekend so come along if you are. See ya, Tim (LFTC Coach).