March 17, 2023 | ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT | By Jan Alfaro

Everybody has outlets and unfortunately one of my biggest ones is running. Now, I say unfortunately because I was blessed with chronic shin splints, which means I abandon the well-being of my legs for the sake of my general happiness. This isn’t completely masochistic, as I’ve tried my best to avoid stress fractures, reserving hours upon hours for physical therapy year-round while competitively running in high school and college.

One of the things I had to focus on in PT was my cadence, which is just the number of steps taken in a set amount of time, usually one minute (steps per minute). The number that circulates through the running world as the ‘best’ cadence is 180 spm. This was somewhat observed by distance coach Jack Daniels while noting the stride lengths and rates of elite runners at the 1984 Olympic games. He reported that although stride length differed between different race distances, stride rates generally ranged from 185-190. Following this finding, many articles and teachings adopted a 180-magic number for running efficiently.


Now, this has more recently been taught with a grain of salt as there’s more to a runner’s performance than cadence. Stride length plays a large role as well as other factors including body composition, running style, and the type of workout you’re doing. So, although cadence isn’t the one-size-fits-all solution, it still plays a large role in improving running economy, especially with an injured runner, as adopting a quicker cadence often decreases stride length. A long stride length makes one injury-prone by making one overstride, increasing the impact on their joints, so shortening this should decrease the high impact of running on the body. 

Now, this all ties to music, as I was first instructed to work on my cadence by listening to a metronome at 170 beats per minute, slowly working my way up to 180 bpm. I strangely loved this, but my runs became more enjoyable when I found music that matched the bpm of my cadence goal. At first, increasing your cadence can feel uncomfortable as it can feel like you’re taking abnormally small steps. That’s when increasing your current cadence by 5%, gradually making the process smoother. Another tip is imagining that a ladder is on the ground and your feet must land in between the rungs, so instead of striding out to go faster, you’re taking quicker steps.

All that said, this week’s earjam has songs that are all between the 175-180 bpm range. The songs fall in a gradient where the first three songs are 175 bpm, the fourth 178 bpm, and the last six 180 bpm. A fun one not included is M.I.A.’s “Paper Planes”, which is 172 bpm, a little slower yet better for beginning to increase cadence. The playlist includes an array of songs, ranging from the 7-minute-long Berlin-type beat “Temperance” by Marcus Intalex to Death Grip’s chaotic “Anne Bonny”. Also included are futuristic, chill saxophone tracks “Two For C”, throwback “Such Great Heights”, weight-room party beat “Tour”, rock’s “There’s No Other Place”, and my current favorite, Flume’s low-fi electronic “Fantastic”.

To reiterate, don’t get discouraged by the potential discomfort of increasing your cadence. It’ll get easier and more natural with time. Moreso, don’t think you have to hit or stay at 180. If it really feels terrible, maybe you’re built for a different cadence. My hope is to just make running fun for you with a little advice on the mechanics of it. It feels fun trying to perfect something, and music can soothe this road to literal rhythm.

1 Comment

  1. You have the right idea, and that 180 steps per minute average from Jack Daniels was measured during a freaking Olympic 10000 meter FINAL – I mean, how often does a regular plodder run in one of those races? Personally I have collected over many years songs from 150 steps per minute and up, and yes there are quite a lot of 180s there (because of click tracks use in studios 150, 160, 170 and 180 are totally dominant in my stash) ‘cos I was faster cadencewise at least on shorter distances when I was younger AND believed in Jack D back then – but now the ones I use the most are in the 160-170 range. Here’s the entire list, should help you out the rest of the year! // Peter

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