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The Quickest Way to Improve Your Running with a Metronome

Metronome with LED display

Your heart beat, your breath rate, your love for dancing, are all based on rhythms in your body or rhythms that you’ve established in your life. The more rhythms you establish, the better your body likes it.

When you’re body has a rhythm to follow it doesn’t work as hard. It knows what to do and when to do it. If you go to bed at the same time every night and get up at the same time every morning, your body experiences a rhythm… “now I get to rest, now it’s time to get up.”

One rhythm I’m acutely aware of when I run, is my cadence…the number of strides I take per minute. I have found that most people do best when they run with a steady rhythmical cadence. It varies slightly from person to person based on height, body structure and personality type, but the optimal cadence for humans, seems to fall between 170-180 strides per minute.

When your cadence is always the same, a lot of things seem to fall into place. When you cadence stays at a steady rate, it requires that you vary your stride length when you’re running at different speeds. If you think of changing your stride length to accommodate different levels of effort, your body learns to run with a set of gears and work in much the same way as your bicycle or your car.

Several clients have said that running with a metronome gives them a sense of stability in their running because their cadence becomes the single constant that underlies everything else that’s going on when they’re running. This allows them a greater ability to focus on other ChiRunning Form Focuses. I love running with my metronome and I use it almost every time I run, and always in races. It helps me most in creating a sense of effortlessness in my legs and it is without question the best training tool that I’ve ever run with.

How to use the metronome to improve your running
Step One: Determine Your Current Cadence

When you first begin to work on your cadence you should start by measuring your current cadence (the number of strides you take per minute). To determine the cadence you’re currently running, take your metronome and go out for an easy run at whatever pace you would run for a typical training run. For this test be sure to run on a flat course and preset your metronome to 170 bpm. Then, turn the volume off.

After about 5 minutes of running, turn the volume up on the metronome and match the beep of the metronome to your stride rate by pressing the (+) or (-) button. It may take a minute or two for you to perfectly align both, but just feel the rate at which you sense your feet hitting the ground, and then adjust the
beep of the metronome faster or slower until it’s a perfect match with your stride rate. Then, note the beats/minute reading on your metronome and you’ll know your current cadence.

Step Two: Run at this Cadence for One Week

Practice running with your metronome at your measured cadence for one week. Let’s say for example that it’s 170 strides/minute. Set your metronome to beep at that rate and start it  then you begin each run. Practice matching your cadence to the beat of the metronome with every step you take, if you can. This will train you to maintain a steady cadence no matter what your speed. That’s right! Your cadence should stay the same whether you’re running fast or slow, up or downhill, or trying to catch a bus. Keep it the same, no matter what and you’ll learn to be a highly efficient runner because you’ll never be caught overstriding or overworking your legs!

Step Three: Increase your cadence to fall between 170-180 strides/minute

Your cadence should ideally range between 170-180 strides per minute. If you’re a tall or long-legged runner you could run with a cadence closer to 170 spm. If you’re a short legged runner (like me) you should aim for a cadence closer to 180 spm.

Run for a week with your metronome set at whatever cadence you’re starting at. Then, after a week, increase the setting on your metronome by one beat per minute and run every run for the following week at your new cadence. By upping your cadence only one beat per week, your body will barely notice the cadence increase. This gradual way of increasing your cadence is much easier on your body than trying to run at your ideal cadence right away. It gives your body time to adjust to a new way of running.

Step Four: Run to a Waltz Beat

Actually, this can happen during Step Three. To keep your body balanced, it is better to run with a waltz rhythm which goes like this:

Set your metronome to beep on every third foot strike. So your footsteps with the beat would go: right 2, 3…left 2, 3…right 2, 3…left 2, 3…beep 2, 3…beep 2, 3…just like a waltz.

I suggest using the waltz rhythm as soon as you have gotten through your first week of using a metronome. You can use it right after you’ve determined your beginning cadence. A nice added feature of this is that you don’t have to listen to as many beats every minute.

Here’s a conversion chart for switching to a waltz rhythm. It’s a simple calculation. Take your current cadence and divide by 3.

Strides per minute

Total spm vs. Waltz (counting every third step)

150 50 (new setting on metronome)
153 51
156 52
159 53
162 54
165 55
168 56
171 57
174 58
180 60
Step Five: Use Your New Cadence to Improve Your Form

There is no better training tool than a metronome for learning to vary your stride length to accommodate different speeds. Once you’re comfortable running with your metronome, do
this workout with the metronome set at your ideal cadence and keep it going the entire time. Warm up for 5 minutes and then run one minute intervals, without missing a beat, changing
gears every minute. You can shift gears up or down during these 1-minute intervals, but I suggest only running in your first 3 gears. One thing you can’t do is vary your cadence. It’s a
good challenge to allow your stride length to go longer or shorter depending on the gear you’re running in.

Here are the four gears:

1. Warm-up pace (very easy pace)
2. Training pace (the pace you would run your longest run – aerobic)
3. Race pace (the pace you would run in a race – High-end aerobic)
4. Sprint speed (your top speed – anaerobic)

The Racers Edge

When I’m running competitively I trick my body into going a little faster by raising my normal tempo of 180 up to 182. On race day I run at this slightly faster tempo and my body hardly notices the difference. This gives me a little bit of an edge that can make a difference in a race. Two more strides per minute will add on about twelve additional feet per minute, which means that I can literally drop minutes off my half marathon time without feeling any increase in my effort level.

Aside from the metronome, it is always important to practice the basic ChiRunning form focuses. Your core needs to be engaged and your posture aligned. Your shoulders should be relaxed and your arms swinging easily as you feel for the sweet spot of your lean. Do two of these form workouts each week and you’ll have fabulous running technique in no time.

Pick up a great metronome on our website.

©2022 Danny Dreyer – ChiLiving, Inc.

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