How I used a running power meter to increase my running cadence and improve my running economy.


"To travel further, a runner typically has to propel themselves higher to prevent their feet hitting the ground. This increase in vertical oscillation (VO) requires the length of each foot strike to increase to allow the runner to “catch” themselves when landing and then push off again to “throw” their body back into the air. "

Running cadence (the number of steps taken per minute) influences running economy (how well energy is converted into forward propulsion). The “ideal” running cadence varies between individuals, but is approximately 180 steps per minute (spm).


I’ve always had a long, slow running gait with a cadence of around 160 spm during aerobic runs and only a slight increase when running faster. As an example, my average cadence was 164 spm during my last marathon (2:38 h, 3:40 min/km) and 168 spm in my last 10 km race (32:24 min, 3:14 min/km).


Dr Will running in the forest. Credit Tyler Perrin
Overstriding with a long slow cadence


So why does a low cadence matter?


There are two ways to increase running pace: (1) increase your stride length and ( 2) increase your stride rate (cadence). Ideally, when speeding up, both of these parameters should increase. However, runners with a low cadence must compensate for this by having a relatively large increase in stride length. This is commonly the case for taller people, like myself (6.2”).


The issue with only increasing your stride length is that it leads to an inefficient running gait. To travel further, a runner typically has to propel themselves higher to prevent their feet hitting the ground. This increase in vertical oscillation (VO) requires the length of each foot strike to increase to allow the runner to “catch” themselves when landing and then push off again to “throw” their body back into the air. You can monitor how long your foot spends on the ground by looking at ground contact time (GCT). A larger VO and high GCT take away precious energy that could otherwise be used for forward propulsion.


Research has also shown that increasing your cadence by 10% can significantly reduce the loading (energy absorption) on your hips and knees, which could help reduce your risk of injury.