The 180 Steps Per Minute Myth

Poor Jack, he makes one simple observation and it gets blown up to legendary proportions. One mans stride is another mans gallop. You’d never know that with some of the comments floating around the web.

When I first heard of the optimum cadence for running, it piqued my interest. Being a very slow runner, anything that might help make me a better-and faster runner gets my attention. Years ago, Jack Daniels, a running guru deserving of respect throughout the running community, observed elite runners during the 1984 Olympic Games. He observed that the runners all maintained a running cadence of at least 180 steps per minutes (STP). Many had faster cadences, but they all had at least 180 STP. To me, the conclusion was obvious. Elite, very fast runners maintained a high cadence rate. The 180 was the low bar in Daniel’s observation. What can we extrapolate from this observation that could be applied to the masses of runners that are not in the elite category? In my opinion, nothing.

Let’s use me as an example. 5’10, between 170-180 pounds on a given day and very slow, maybe in the six mile an hour range for an average run. This is a far cry from elite runners who may be no more than 5’2-5’4 and be in the the 120-140 pound range. Am I supposed to maintain the same kind of cadence that they do? On the surface it would be absurd. I’ve tried it. For me, at the speed I’m running, 180 STM requires a tremendous amound of energy with very little no benefit. Unless you’re at the 8+ mile an hour range, 180 STM makes no sense at all. I currently average around 165, which rises as my speed increases. That actually makes sense. If you want to run faster, increase your cadence. Now I’ve seen arguments where they say maintain 180 STM at any speed. Go ahead and try that at 5 miles per hour. You’ll look like Fred Flintstone trying to start his car. Feet flapping and going nowhere. Furthermore, maintaining that cadence at any speed will eventually limit how fast you can actually run. Think of it. At 180 STM, eventually, your stride will be so absurdly wide that your form will suffer and you can likely look forward to injury. Do it at a low speed and you demonstrate the Flinstonian model of inefficient running.

Fortunately, there are a growing number of articles out there debunking the 180 STM myth. Add this one to the group. The correct cadence is the one where you can maintain maximum efficiency and speed with the most economical use of a limited energy supply. 180 STM is just a waste at a lower speed, and just not enough at very high speeds. We can get into size and leg length as well, but the bottom line is that one cadence any time, all the time will only get a newbie runner in trouble and possibly destroy an already effective cadence for an experienced runner. It’s biomechanics 101-well biomechanics 28 for me, but then you don’t need to be a scientist to figure this one out…

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