What is the Ideal Cadence?

Laura Barreca PT, DPT

In the running community, everyone likes to talk about cadence and a lot of discussion goes into what the ideal cadence is or what that number should be. Well, surprise, there actually is no right number! 

Cadence is the number of steps/minute taken during a gait cycle.

This number tells us how many times each foot is hitting the ground over the time span of 1 minute. Over the years, the number 160 has been thrown around a lot – this number is not wrong but also not that exact! Cadence is going to vary from person to person and in a perfect world, you are in the 160-180 steps/minute realm. 

There are a few different factors that can affect cadence and need to be taken into account.

These factors include sex, stage of physical maturation and leg length which was stated by a study released in 2019; one size does not fit all when determining cadence. This means that within that 160-180 range, there are going to be differences that vary by person based on makeup. 

Another study was released in 2019 looking at military training and injury prevention. One of the main ways to reduce injury risk was found to be by increasing cadence. A question I get often is how to increase cadence and if this means changing your foot strike. This study also looked at foot strike in terms of injury prevention and found that there is NO correct foot strike. Whether you are a heel, forefoot, or midfoot striker, there is no difference in injury risk with athletic performance.

So, to wrap this all up, don’t listen to what your Garmin or Apple watch tells you, count for yourself! No need to change your foot strike to try to increase your cadence unless guided by a medical professional. And lastly, remember that cadence is no magic number, it will vary for everyone and trying to increase yours by 5% can help lead to a reduction in injury risk in the future.

By Laura Barreca PT, DPT

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