Tuesday, October 4, 2011

180 bpm - Why All The Hype?

I'm sure any runner out there has heard or read at one point in time about how they should be running at a specific 180 bpm.  The increases cadence is supposed to shorten the amount of time your feet are in contact with the ground, help you stray away from heel striking, keep your body in a smoother motion, and make you run more efficiently.  I just have one question...

Why 180 bpm?

I've heard that number from friends.  I've heard it from employees at my local running store.  I've read it in articles online and in magazines.  The number seems to be universally accepted as the perfect cadence.  But how many people know why it's chosen?  How many people have tested it?  Have you?

From what I've found, it seems that the number 180 was originally chosen because the great runners hover between 176 and 183 bpm.  Therefore, the experts take that information and claim that every runner should run the same way if they want to be the best or even just improve.  I'm not convinced.

I do agree that the idea behind perfecting your cadence is intriguing and deserves merit, but I haven't read or heard anything convincing me that 180 is spot on for everyone.  So given all the hype - and that I've wanted to test my own cadence for quite some time - I decided to do so yesterday.

I went to the site Jog.fm and found a number of songs that are roughly a 180 bpm and made a playlist on my mp3 player.  Then I hoped on the treadmill at work and tested it out.

I found that the 180 bpm is my natural pace at just over 7:00 pace, approximately 7:10.  I thought "Hey, I'm already running really efficiently.  That's nice!"  But then I started playing around with my pacing. 

I slowed down to 8:30, approximately what I expect to run my marathon at, and found that 180 bpm cadence feels like I'm shuffling my feet.  Then I sped up to 5:27 pace (11.0 mph) and 180 bpm is way to slow.  I felt like I had to continually leap as if I'm jumping over debri in the road. 

So what's my conclusion?  
Without detailed analysis, my primary general conclusion would be that whatever pace you naturally hit 180 bpm would be considered your most efficient pace, possibly your "natural" pace.  There's truth amongst the hype for 180 bpm, but it is not a hard and fast rule everyone should stick to.  The truth is in the theory behind it.  Increasing your cadence to a point will help you run more efficiently.  Should everyone take their preferred pace and change the cadence to 180 bpm?, NO!  Part of me also thinks that a primary focus on altering your cadence seems backwards.  Why not work on increasing your speed with track/speed workouts and keeping track of your cadence at various paces over time.  I would bet money that your cadence at a given pace will decrease as your natural pace decreases.  However, on the flip side of this, I WILL admit that I've seen some people who might benefit from altering their cadence a bit.  After all, I work at a gym and I see quite the range of running styles.  There's always an exception to the rule.

Taking my thoughts into consideration, I'd like to point out that while Jog.fm allows you to search for songs based upon a given bpm, they also allow you to search for songs based upon your pace.  For instance, if I punch in 7:00 pace, I get songs that are 180 bpm.  However, if I punch in Ryan Hall's 4:30 half marathon pace, I get songs that are 205 bpm and a more conservative 10:00 pace returns songs with 150 bpm. 

I have not tested how well that change of cadence works with my personal pacing - that's the next step - but I find it interesting to see that Jog.fm acknowledges that 180 bpm is not universal. 


1.  What cadence do you run at?  Have you ever tested it?

2.  What are your thoughts on the whole 180 bpm hype? 

Swim fast.  Bike smart.  Run hard.


it's all about pace said...

intresting topic.

#1. Never tested my cadence

#2. 180 sounds like half of something (perhaps I'm using circular logic")

Aimee said...

I've always been interested in this too. I actually went to a minimalist clinic where they said we should aim for around 180bmp and I asked one of the speakers how it correlates to pace. Basically, he said it doesn't matter what your "pace" is, what you want to aim for is that quick turn over that you get from 180bmp. So, theoretically, even at a 8min. pace, you can still more your legs at 180bpm. I don't know!!
Maybe after IMAZ I'll look into more in depth, but for now, I just need to focus on getting in the time and miles!!

Shelby said...

LOL you are a science NERD ;)

180 bpm ... hmmm never tried it but it seems pretty fast judging by my old aerobics teaching days to 160 and 180 bpm music =)

5 Miles Past Empty said...

Yep, I got truned on to this I think after reading about bike and even swimming cadence. So the running cadence made sense as well. I looked at Jog.FM but I don't have a lot of the music they suggested and I didn't want to buy it all on amazon or iTunes. =/ Did you happen to have a lot of the music? Neither here not there but I know it would help. When I listen to upbeat music my feet move quicker.....

P.S. I'm with Shelby here...you are a science a nerd. But that is what makes you unique! What did we ever do before you joined the bloggy world??? =)

Matthew Smith said...

Great info, and thanks for your own analysis. Jog.fm looks like it's pretty cool. Thanks!

gina said...

training for Ironman Canada, my coach had me test my cadence to make sure I was light on my feet and I was getting quick turnover (even at a shuffle). He told me it would save precious energy in my race. I think it worked?! :)

Ron said...

When treating running injuries I have noticed inefficient runners use a stride rate that is too slow FOR THEM. It is about rhythm. Studies do show that an increase in stride rate of 5% will diminish the ground reaction force by 20%. An increase in stride rate of 10% will diminish ground reaction force by 38%. The running rate stays the same and the feet move faster. Makes for more efficient loading rate, therefore more efficient, and less injuries. The best runners just run at 180 bpm, should you? Not necessarily but are your feet moving fast enough for you? That is a better question....

Anonymous said...

Cadence is not related to pace nor velocity. If does not matter if you are running at 5:00 or 8:00. If you are running at 150 or 180 bpm you change your velocity by changing your stride length not by changing your pbm.

Kurt @ Becoming An Ironman said...

To Mr. or Ms. Anonymous,

You are correct in the strict sense. I could take baby steps and a 180 bpm cadence only gets me up to a slow walking speed. However, I am taking a leap of assumption in that your stride length remains within a certain range. By this I mean that you are not consciously altering your stride length from what it would be at a given pace (if my stride length at 7:00 pace is 5 feet, I'm not purposefully trying to make it 2 nor 6 ft.), then there certainly is a relation of cadence to speed as well as velocity.

As I said, in the strict math or physics terms, you are correct. However, when we begin to look at the physical application of the subject, there are ties everywhere!