Just the other day, I ordered a cadence meter to try out with my running. I was prepared to set it at 180 beats/minute in hopes of ensuring that’s what my foot strikes were. I’ve been tested for this before by a PT and found to already have that cadence, but still, a recent shot of me at the Naked Foot 5k made me wonder if I wasn’t still over striding a bit. A 180 cadence, I thought, would help ensure I wasn’t.
For years now, and most especially of late, runners have sought out the magic cadence of 180 foot strikes per minute. This was a number originally recommended by legendary coach Jack Daniels as the most optimum for running efficiency, and one that pretty much the entire running community has embraced. With the newish trend towards more natural running, the 180 concept has gained even more ground. The idea is that a 180 cadence will help keep your legs under your center of gravity, thus leading to fewer injuries.
And then I read this post by Pete Larson, co-author with Bill Katovsky of Tread Lightly (review to come), and I realized that maybe it was time to abandon the idea of 180 being a magic number.
You see, Pete has become quite the student of the sport. One of his tools in learning is a camera or video lens. He recently acquired footage from the Olympic trials of those vying for a spot at the 5,000 meter distance and broke down each athlete’s cadence. You know what? The vast majority were above 180 and only one or two were actually at 180.
What are we to make of this? The jury is still out–there are quite a few factors at play here. Most of the footage came from the final 600 meters, suggesting that the athletes were at about top speed at this point. Would it be logical to assume their cadence runs higher at this stage? Or can we presume these athletes all hit better than 180 any time they are running? And if the elites aren’t at 180, should we be?
Whatever the case, Pete’s point in his post is that maybe we need to stop getting so hung up on one number. Maybe the most efficient cadence is going to be different for different individuals.
So back to my cadence meter. Should I use it or not? I still think it would be interesting as an experiment. I think the evidence Pete found suggests that we all probably want at least a 180. But maybe just as I go low tech in regards to a GPS watch (I don’t wear one), I should leave well enough alone.
Have you been seeking the holy grail of 180 beats/minute? Do you hit it? What do you think of these findings?