180 pace lgYou may have heard that one of the best ways to improve your running and decrease your chances of injury is to focus on your cadence. You’ve probably also heard that the ideal cadence is 180. There’s some truth to that, but there’s also some variation to it.

The 180 number was determined by famous coach Jack Daniels years ago. While it’s a cadence that shows many benefits, when you get down to it, achieving a 180 cadence (or higher) can be pretty hard for many runners.

Elites in a race may hit as high as 200, for instance. On a slow recovery run, however, those same elites may fall below 180. The bottom line: as nice as it is to think we can all run 180 at all paces, the truth of the matter is that a 180 cadence is hard to accomplish at a truly easy pace. That doesn’t mean you can’t make improvements. You can and should.

Most studies have shown that a five percent improvement to cadence is very doable and will be enough of an improvement to boost your efficiency while decreasing your likelihood for injury. Sounds good, no?

To go about it, establish your base cadence for the various paces you run; with each pace increase, the cadence will probably go up, too. So take note of your cadence at easy pace, tempo pace, marathon pace–whatever paces you typically run. Then figure out what a five percent increase to each number would equal and make that your goal.

So say your easy pace cadence is 165. Add 5 percent to that to come up with 173. On your next easy run, then, aim for a cadence of 173. Do the same with all your other paced runs and soon you will have goal cadences to shoot for. When those cadences become natural, try to up it another 5 percent, and so on.

When you go out to run with your goal cadences in mind, use some sort of a cadence meter to help you hit your target cadence–your body will automatically fall into step with it. You can use a simple clip-on cadence meter (I do), or any number of apps that are designed to track specific cadence if you run with a phone. Another option, if you run with music, is to put together a playlist of songs with a 180 beat—there are plenty of lists of this music to be found with some Googling.

Why not shoot for that golden 180 number right off the bat on all your runs? Just like the rule with increasing mileage, too much/too soon can be a bad thing. Go gradually and you’ll get there.

Another way to help improve cadence is to do concentrated drills. One easy way: finish a run near a downhill stretch in the road, then do a set of short downhill repeats. Your legs can’t help but turn over quickly. Strides at the end of a run can also help. Whatever the case might be, it pays to aim for a higher cadence. Do it the right way and you’ll be hitting the ground like an elite in no time!