There’s a beat that gets you. The one that pulls you out of your seat and forces you to dance. Or grind. Or whatever.

It’s different for everyone. For me, I get itchy when I hear a marching band’s drum line. (Yes, I realize that it would be MUCH cooler if I said it was Rick James’ “Super Freak” that did it to me, but as has been recently proven, my Rick James bona fides are a little lacking.)

I love me a drum line. I love that rat-a-tat, crisp beat. It makes me want to march at an easy pace, swinging my arms, feeling long and strong.

It turns out (as I’ve just learned today) that the muscles in your body ALSO have a cadence that makes them want to stretch and flex. Did you know? The answer is ONE HUNDRED EIGHTY BEATS A MINUTE.

This is, I am assured, absolutely scientifically proven. If you run your little feet at, let’s say, 150 beats a minute (which it turns out I do), then you’re going too slowly. Your muscles are spending too much time engaged; it’s like doing a series of little hops.

But if you shorten your stride and pick up your speed to 180 strides a minute, then you blend flex with time. The muscles dig it big-big. You not only get more fluid – you also have less wear-and-tear on your joints.

Easy, right?


My LUNGS are barely surviving at 150 beats per minute. How the hell am I supposed to go faster and take shorter strides?!

“Well, it’ll feel awkward for a while, and you’re going to need to let your cardio conditioning catch up. It’ll take a bit of time.” This from Liz, the expert at Body Dynamics who did my running assessment today.

“How long is a bit of time?” I asked, suspiciously.

“Oh, just six weeks.”

I didn’t fall out of my chair in astonishment, but only because I was too tired. I like to run on the treadmill at the same speed I run in the great outdoors, which is exactly 4.0 miles an hour and not a step faster. Liz had just had me running at 4.8 miles an hour and I was simply too exhausted to dramatize my distress by flailing on the ground.

“In fact, I might add a run to your week, to get the conditioning up to speed quicker.”

“You want me to run three times a week?”

“Just for twenty minutes,” she hastened to add, applying a cold towel to my forehead to keep me from unconsciousness. (Not really.) “Run for one minute at 180 beats, and then walk a minute. Do that, on and off, for just 20 minutes. You can do that, right?”

JUST for 20 minutes, she said. As if I was regularly running for longer than that.

I’m not. I’m really not. Fifteen minutes for a mile with Barbara on Tuesdays, around 22 minutes on my own around the lake on Fridays.

But then, with a sweet smile that masked her demonic purpose, Liz pulled up the results of the assessment. She’d stuck two sensors on my shins before putting me on the treadmill, and she’d video’ed my feet as I ran, so she was fully armed.

“Look. This is what your feet are doing when you’re going 4.0 miles an hour.”

“Why am I spending so much extra time on my right foot?”

“Why, indeed. But look – the left foot is taking on a lot more weight.”

“Huh? Does that make sense?”

“Sure – but look at what happened when you began running at 4.8.”

“God damn it, are you making this up? Is this a set-up?”

“Nope. You’re far more symmetrical at the higher pace. See? Same weight, left and right. Same time, left and right. This is a better speed for you.”

It is VERY HARD to argue with a kind, athletic, sympathetic woman who has computer sensors to back up her relentless authority.

She had me try running to the sound of a metronome, to make sure I was hitting 180 beats a minute. It’s every bit as impossibly fast as it sounds. About the only thing I have going for me, athletically speaking, is that I’m fairly leggy; I can take a pretty long stride. BUT NO. From now on, I’m to mince along like a cartoon character in full flight – upper body still, lower body blurring in a circle of speed.

Sigh. Can’t we just go march to the cadence of a drum line??


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Liz very kindly suggested I might attempt to shift my mental attitude toward running. A little positive thinking, she opined, might help. I’m sure it would. I’m a big believer in the power of positive thinking. But DAYUM – it’s even harder to change my opinion of myself than it is to change my cardio conditioning. This is going to take more than six weeks!

7 thoughts on “Cadence

  1. So is 180 beats pretty minute universal or the best just for you? Your curious running friend who had never timed (or thought to time), such a thing but wants to be as nice to her aging body as she can.


    1. Liz said that 180 bpm was a sweet spot, muscularly. I asked her if she’d ever assessed Barbara, my run-like-the-wind guru who regularly runs an 8-1/2 minute mile over impossibly long distances; Liz said Barbara is a gifted and natural runner; she thinks she instinctively runs at about 175 bpm, which was ideal for Barbara. So the scale apparently slides… but not by much. I’m paraphrasing, of course, so take it with a grain of salt!


  2. You’re right–that is FAST. I just set my metronome to 176 (it was either that or 184 so guess which I picked) and ran in place for a minute. I, too, will need to work up to 20 minutes. It will be nice to have a goal and one that is kind to my old knees.


    1. Juli, I feel great relief that you’re going to join me! And it seems IMPOSSIBLY fast! I’ve just made a playlist; hopefully that will help. (But getting the beats per minute is only half the problem; how will I be able to SPEED UP?!?)


  3. Pru,
    I fully enjoyed reading your take on the run assessment experience. You did a great job simplifying and recapping the key points in a far more entertaining way than I did. I will have to barrow some of your lingo next time I am trying to explain the cadence concept to a patient.

    I have two thoughts to add. First, if the 180 strikes per minute feels too aggressive then try starting around 170 strikes per minute and working up from there. Every body is unique and while we can use research, computers, and sensors to help guide recommendations it ultimately comes down to what works for YOU. Secondly, change only happens when we push outside our comfort zone (mentally and physically). The beginning is always hard but you can do it!!

    Liz Bradley, DPT,PT,OCS


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