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I read that 180 steps per minute is the "optimal" running cadence, but all running research seems geared towards racers. If I run purely for fitness, and don't care about my speed, should I target a longer stride (and, presumably, slower cadence)?

I assume that racers don't care if they are conditioning their muscles to a restricted range of motion if that gives them a more physiologically efficient stride, whereas for general fitness don't we prefer to maximize the range of motion covered during exercise?

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There is a lot of debate about this topic in the running world still. The "180 as optimum" was taken after viewing footage of elite marathoners mid race, and counting steps. There has been some confirmation that some marathoners train at that cadence as well, but there have been just as many that don't fall into that range.

What I've found as a coach, is that the vast majority of runners will self select the cadence and strike pattern that best suits them. I also think it's unreasonable to expect someone to have the same cadence while running a 10 minute mile as they do running a 7 minute mile. That generally means that you're either artificially chopping your slow pace stride short, or that you're over striding in your 7 minute mile.

Just go run. Look at your shoes when they start to get worn, and see if you have any unusual wear patterns. If so, then you may need to adjust your stride and/or type of shoe that you wear. If not, don't worry too much about it. Your cadence will increase naturally as you run faster, and your pace will get faster for the same cadence as you get more efficient.

What you should do, if you are intending to race, is have days of dedicated speed work, as well as short fartlek/stride intervals on other selected running days. There are quite a few questions on here about adding speedwork to running.

  • Makes sense. But since I'm asking specifically for runners who run for fitness and never care about speed: I'm assuming that one can consciously work on lengthening one's stride, and do so to some degree without risking injury; and that the longest "comfortable" stride would be the right objective when running purely to maintain overall fitness. Do these assumptions sound correct, or is the right answer always just, "take whatever stride comes naturally given the speed you're running?" – Lysander Jun 23 '15 at 17:25
  • @Lysander - Pretty much the latter. Running is running. If you're running for fitness, then you're still running, you just aren't doing the high intensity, up tempo work, and your average pace can be slower. I find that when I'm just running for fitness, I have an average cadence in the 150-160 range, and as I go faster, my stride naturally increases very slightly and my cadence goes up into the 170-190 range depending on my intensity at the time. – JohnP Jun 23 '15 at 20:23

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