Experts have long claimed the ideal running cadence is 180 steps per minute, but a new study suggests that’s not true.
When researchers tracked 20 elite runners during a 100K road race, they found their step rates ranged from 160 to 210—and the metric had no effect on pace. The same would apply to other distances and to non-pros.
“The body is really good at figuring out its own path of least resistance,” says study author Geoff Burns, an elite marathoner and doctoral student in kinesiology at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. Height plays a small role, but mostly it’s the mobility and strength in your muscles and joints that determines whether you’ll take smaller, choppier steps or longer, loping strides.
The only time you should consider editing your step rate is if you have knee or hip pain. Studies show shortening your stride can ease those aches. Otherwise, messing with your natural cadence could actually slow you down, since your body has to work harder to override its natural biomechanics, Burns says.
The bottom line:
If you’re a healthy runner looking to speed up, add interval workouts, hill training, and plyometrics to your plan, all of which can help drive your body to self-optimize its stride.
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