The Fourth P of Running Form: Pitter-Patter

Posted on April 4, 2013 at 4:45 PM

Pitter-Patter simply refers to Cadence: the number of steps per minute. Those that are avid cyclists will hear the word cadence and think the number of revolutions per minute. The optimal number is 90 revolutions per minute on each leg. 90 rights and 90 lefts give 180 total revolutions. This is the same on cycling as it is on running. The closer you are to 180, the better your efficiency. Cadence has no bearing on speed. You could run a 5 min mile or a 15 min mile and both of them should be done with a 180 cadence. However, if you are running a 15 min mile with proper form and proper cadence, your transition to running faster will be much easier and more streamline. All you will have to do is lean forward more from the ankles. SUPER MAN. (watch the video)


With proper Posture, Athletic Position, and Placement: Pitter-Patter simply brings everything full-circle. It's a short one, but it really makes all the difference in the world.


Cadence helps to reduce vertical oscillation and keep you focused on forward momentum. For example: two runners that are equal in weight and height are running a six minute mile. One of them is practicing perfect natural running with a pitter-patter rate of 180 steps per minute. The other runner has a low turnover: let's say 140 steps per minute. In order to go at the same speed, the lower turnover runner must make longer strides, in turn increasing the amount of time the runner has between each step. Since they are both equal in height and weight, the lower turnover runner must come down with much more force each step. That runner also will have a higher vertical oscillation, meaning that the whole body of the runner goes up and down with much higher peaks than the runner with perfect natural running form. If you reduce your vertical oscillation and reduce the force that you impact the ground with, then your body is going to last longer and stay free from injury longer than the lower cadence runner. Oh, one more thing about the lower turnover runner: most heel strikers have a cadence between 135 steps per minute and 155 steps per minute, usually depending on how tall they are.


Cadence will most likely be one of the hardest things to grasp for anyone making a complete change in their form. At some points you may feel like you are shuffling your feet. And in some cases, that will be true. To avoid the shuffle syndrome, try to remember to lift your foot off the ground on each step by focusing on how high you lift your knee.


There are many ways to get used to running with a cadence of 180. The most crude way is to simply count how many steps per minute you have. But since that is really difficult, sometimes I will count how many steps my right (or left) leg takes in a minute or 30 seconds and multiply that by the proper multiple (2 or 4). There are metronomes you can buy that beep at a rate of 180. This idea is good, but who really wants to listen to something beep three times per second when you're trying to enjoy a peaceful run. One less annoying way is to download an app that selects songs from your computer (Apple or Android both have them as far as I know) that have a 180 cadence and makes a playlist of those songs. I think the best way though is to check yourself every few minutes, work on your internal clock and count one two three, one two three, one two three, steps every second for about 10-15 seconds. Three steps per second is 180 steps per minute. The only thing here is that you need to be right on in order for it to be accurate enough. So pick your poison and practice practice practice.


LIke I said, this is going to be one of the hardest things to grasp for most runners. And as soon as we start focusing 100% on cadence, the form starts to fall apart a little. So re-read the previous posts and don't be afraid to look back for a refresher. Even if you just watch the videos, that can be enough, and a little more entertaining than endless amounts of text.


The biggest piece of advice I can give you if you are working on your form... slow down. If you are a beginner runner, you may think, well I am hardly running at this point, shouldn't I just focus on being able to run first? NO... focus on form running now while you are learning so as to break any bad habits before they even start. The earlier you start the better. But if you're running a 9 min mile average and you try to keep running 9 min miles while learning how to do your form correctly, you are only going to set yourself back and make it harder for yourself to really get the understanding of natural running down to a T. It takes 10,000 hours to become an expert at something. Unfortunately, if you practice something wrong for 10,000 hours, you are an expert at how not to do it.


Here are a few videos from our friends at Newton with some demonstrations of cadence and proper form. (~30 sec) - Brief Demo (~2:30) - More explaination (~2:00) - Excellent Drills (~3:00) - Super Man Drill (revisited video)


Why Superman? It helps you establish your optimal forward lean for the most amount of speed!


That's all. If you have questions, please don't hesitate to ask.

[email protected]

You can also watch the Newton Videos. Go to and type in Running Form Friday in the Search bar and it will bring up tons of stuff to help you out with form. Good luck!


Go Faster and Keep Smiling!

Coach Larsen

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1 Comment

Reply Arlise
12:31 PM on May 8, 2014 
Is there a particular app that you recommend for cadence? I've downloaded a couple and they are lame.