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Hump Day Giveaway: Count your Steps

March 17, 2010

There are certain numbers that govern our lives. 55 mph. Wait 60 minutes before you swim. Buy 12 bagels, get the 13th free. And for us runners, it’s 90.  As in, at least 90 steps per minute per foot–180 total steps in 60 seconds– is the ideal number for a runner; doing so means you’re not overstriding, which means you spend less time on your feet, which sends less shock and impact through your body, which supposedly leads to less injury and, perhaps more importantly, more speed with less effort.

Not every coach adheres to this theory, of course, and some people will naturally be able to hit, say, 100 without even trying. (They’re the ones, at the front of the pack, whose legs are approximately the size of my arms.) Others are more comfortable in the 80-ish zone. Ding ding ding: that’s me. I occasionally count my clodhops–I mean my steps–on run, and without fail, clock in at 80. (I count one foot for 30 seconds, and double that number.) I’ve had an expert who told me that it’s hard for people like us–he clocks in at 6’2″ and I’m at least an inch above that–to hit the magic number, but I’m not one for falling back on height-centric excuses.

So I really tried to grab the golden rung on a run about two weeks ago: as sure as my almost-four-year-old can fake cry in a second, I was going to nail 90.  I counted my tried-and-true 80 a couple times, so I shortened my stride until it felt like I was prancing on my tiptoes, sure I was going to hit at least 92.

A mediocre 84.

During that minute or so, I did feel lighter on my (tip) toes for sure,  but it also felt awkward and muscularly taxing, like the first few minutes of any run does. I couldn’t believe cranking out just four more steps per minute felt so dramatically different; I wonder if I could figure out how to squeeze out 6 more if I might actually take flight.

So here’s the assignment, if you choose to accept, for this week’s Hump Day giveaway: count your steps on your next run. Let us know where you come in, and, more importantly, how it felt. If you do, and you’re picked randomly as the winner, you’ll win a sweet gift certificate for a pair of Brooks shoes. (Unfortunately, they don’t come with a guarantee of a 90 spm cadence. Still, we promise you’ll spring along.)

Where do you clock in? Let us know before noon on Thursday–equal opportunity for both evening and early-morning runners– and you may be clocking along in a new pair of kicks!

42 Comments leave one →
  1. March 17, 2010 10:33 am

    I think you’re on the right track, Dimity! A few years ago, initiated by the advice of Danny Dreyer (ChiRunning guru) and later supported by a number of others, I began working tirelessly to increase my step count. My goal was 90 steps/minute. At 6’4″, it felt pretty silly skipping along so quickly with short strides and such high turn-over, but I stuck with it as the logic of reduced impact and improved endurance made a lot of sense to me (look at any elite field of marathoners and you’ll see they all turn-over at 95+).

    It took many months, but with practice I got to where I routinely stride at 92-93 steps/minute. It has become so ingrained that if I’m tiring, going up an incline, or on rough terrain, I instinctively know that I’m slipping off that benchmark and can adjust accordingly. Whether I’m running seven minute miles or nine minute miles, I am always within 1 or 2 steps of 92/minute, using my amount of forward lean to control pace.

    In order to run at 90+ steps/minute, I think it’s imperative to employ a “natural running” stride, ensuring a fore-to-mid-foot strike. Heel-strikers will likely not have enough forward momentum to achieve 90 steps/minute, as each heel strike slows them down, sending shocking impact forces up through ankles/knees/hips and increasing the chance for injury, particularly when logging many miles. Observing others in the park and at races, it’s clear that the overwhelming majority of casual runners are heel-strikers and therefore will have a tough time increasing steps without first revamping their gait.

    It’s interesting to note that I have not had a single running-related injury since I started to focus on and achieve a high step count. Also, I can now run farther than ever and at a faster pace with the same amount of effort. Stick with it and even though you may feel like you’re spinning your wheels at a ridiculous rate, eventually it will feel natural and the resulting improvements in endurance, increased speed, and injury-prevention are sure to follow.

  2. March 17, 2010 11:20 am

    I am still playing catch up on blog reading since my Ultra so bare with me as I try to get caught up on all the great posts!

    I will be interested in my count. I wonder (if) how much pushing the jogging will effect my turnover?! Married-single parenting this week until tomorrow evening all my runs will be with the jogger, hummm? So that will factor in but I will let you know how I make out.

    It will be interesting to see everyone’s results!

  3. March 17, 2010 11:21 am

    …Oh, got the book. Not done yet, but LOVING it! Again sorry for the self-absoredness lately. You’d think I did somethine major (like run my little Ultra!:-) But I will be posting and linking your site soon! Thanks so much!

  4. March 17, 2010 12:12 pm

    Never done this before but tried it this morning and came up with 88. Gonna try again on my morning run to make sure I did it right! Love those Brooks!

  5. Kristin Taliaferro permalink
    March 17, 2010 12:44 pm

    Thanks for a good running idea on hump day. I just tried it and clocked in at a measly 78. I tried it uphill, downhill, straight away and came up with the same count each time. I felt like I was running faster than normal, though apparently I wasn’t running very fast at all. I’ll try it again tomorrow and see what happens.

    • bowenshea permalink*
      March 17, 2010 4:53 pm

      Kristin–At least you’re consistent, right?! “;>)

  6. March 17, 2010 12:51 pm

    My run yesterday clocked in at 87. I looked at a few past runs (since I have the Garmin FR60 with footpod) and looks like I’m usually 87+. I’m going to try and hit an average of 90 on my next run. It’s so hard to pick up cadence though!

  7. Katie permalink
    March 17, 2010 1:03 pm

    Wow – did this today and clocked in at 84 pretty consistently. I did the same thing as Sarah – checked through my Garmin data – and I’m usually in the 84-97 range. I’m going to try and pick it up as well – see what it feels like to hit 90!

  8. Tricia permalink
    March 17, 2010 3:26 pm

    Definitely something to focus on during my run tomorrow. I’ve never thought about counting my steps/minute but it makes complete sense. Whenever my bad calf starts acting up, I focus on shortening my stride and that seems to help. I’m willing to bet that I’m in the low 80s. We’ll see.

  9. SUSAN KOKESH permalink
    March 17, 2010 4:40 pm

    Interesting. I tried this on my run today, twice. I came in at 86 and at 87. (Well, I tried a 3rd time, but I lost count because I got distracted by a funny joke my girlfriend was telling me — it is hard to count and laugh at the same time). 🙂 But on the 87, I think I was more warmed up, running a bit faster, focusing on the count and my stride more. Good stuff to think about.

    • SUSAN KOKESH permalink
      March 17, 2010 10:43 pm

      My hubby today (after discussing this topic) informed me I have a VERY short stride. Perhaps accounting for a higher stride count, while being a slower runner. Hmmm. Even more to ponder now.

  10. Julie permalink
    March 17, 2010 4:44 pm

    I’m with Alex!
    Actually, I’ve been going through so much PT over the last few months to heal my ankle and cadence has been the focus of my therapist (and those achilles’ lifts that Sarah does). She suggested I run with a metronome. So I discovered that I have a big old stopwatch that has one as a function. It’s loud (and a little embarrassing when running on the street) but I set it at 92 and it really helps keep me on track. The trick for me is to keep that cadence when I’m not using a metronome. I’m working on it!

  11. March 17, 2010 4:53 pm

    78-80. Wow. I have a recurring injury above my ankle that no one can tell me what it is, but my ankle was swelling up last fall. Why I had to start all over now. Maybe if I start this 90 step thing it will help! Thanks!


  12. March 17, 2010 5:46 pm

    I can’t do it. I still have last-child syndrome. If you tell me to run 90 a minute, I’ll run 90 a minute. I read about this a couple of years ago & just irritated myself with my lack of being able to run normally & count! Embarrasingly the rule follower…when it comes to steps, Mary…

  13. bowenshea permalink*
    March 17, 2010 6:06 pm

    I’m right there with you, Mary: I can’t count steps while I run to save my life! And for you talented Garmin users: I have NO clue how to get that answer from my Forerunner. I bow down to all of you who can do one or both of those options.

    I do know, however, how to run and chew [caffeinated] gum at same time…in case you were wondering! “;>)

  14. March 17, 2010 6:48 pm

    I was between 82 and 87…my first count was at 87 and I instinctively had quickened my pace…so I knew that it wasn’t an accurate measure of my true pace, so I did one more and got 84, but I was still a little faster than my normal pace, so I waited until I was more tired; past the halfway point, and my pace was 82. I don’t know that I could have kept up the 87 for a mile let alone all 5 today! I am going to have to work in this more 🙂 thanks for the challenge. I LOVE my brooks shoes and would LOVE a 2nd pair for when these need replacing!!

  15. Natalie permalink
    March 17, 2010 7:43 pm

    I’ve never given much thought to my cadence. But I recently got the Garmin FR60 (which I am LOVING) and it automatically figured out my cadence for me on today’s 4.5 miler. I learned that my average cadence was 78, though it went as high as 86 at certain points. I have no idea what to do with this information, but it’s nice to have the data so quickly at hand! 🙂

  16. Meggie permalink
    March 17, 2010 7:44 pm

    84 consistently… will have to focus on faster turnover on my long run this weekend. But since I’m only 5’5” does that mean I should have no problem achieving 90 steps?? Hahaha

  17. March 17, 2010 7:49 pm

    I ran my last training run before a 1/2 marathon this morning before reading this post, but I hope my comment will still count as an entry!

    Several months ago, I worked on increasing my turnover and managed to hit 85 or 86 footstrikes fairly regularly. I’m also very tall with a long stride, so it didn’t feel natural at all (in fact, it seemed I had to propel myself upward instead of forward to get even close to the desired number of steps). I didn’t practice it enough to really permanently affect my normal stride, but I still will employ the quicker turnover method during runs when I’m feeling tired. It seems I can catch my breath by just shortening my stride for a couple of minutes without having to slow my pace at all. I’ve even found myself running faster during those couple of minutes, a pace I can sometimes maintain once I go back to my natural, normal stride.

  18. Sheryl permalink
    March 17, 2010 8:56 pm

    I am learning so much from this blog . . . I had never heard of counting steps before. (Sigh, I have so much to learn.) I tried this during my run this afternoon and counted 83. I’m such a perfectionist that now that I know about step counting, it will likely bug me until I hit 90!

  19. March 17, 2010 8:49 pm

    Counted twice, got 85 and 87. I’ve got short little legs on my 5’1 frame and am struggling with injuries that I know are foot strike related, so I’m going to start working on picking up the cadence a bit.

  20. Jenny C. permalink
    March 17, 2010 8:59 pm

    Well, I tried to do this without letting my running partner know what I was doing but I couldn’t remember how long I was supposed to count for plus she kept distracting me by talking. Finally I had to tell her I couldn’t talk for a minute because I had to count my steps! Suddenly neither one of us was talking and we were both counting our steps. And then I couldn’t count mine because hers footfalls were distracting me. LOL! I think maybe I counted 88.

  21. March 17, 2010 10:22 pm

    Love this idea – mostly because I’m terrible at pacing myself. I counted three different times during a 40 minute run, and each time it was 86 spm. How interesting! Guess my pace is consistent, anyway, if slow. 🙂

  22. March 17, 2010 10:23 pm

    Well I counted while pushing the jogger and holding on the whole minute ( I often push the jogger and play catch up as it rolls). I also did my count early in the run but I was worried I would forget to do it. I got 73. You asked about how I felt. My legs are still feeling heavy since the ultra. I need to get some runs in without the jogger and with m biking sherpa to push my pace back up there. But for today that was my turnover. But now I will be working on it. Thanks for educating me all the time!

  23. GottaRun26.2 permalink
    March 17, 2010 10:34 pm

    Approximately 88 on a treadmill at a comfortable pace. Thanks for posting this and thanks to other readers who shared some interesting related facts. It gave me something to focus on during my workout this evening as I always try to concentrate on my running to temporarily suspend the day to day challenges/tasks of life.

  24. March 17, 2010 11:05 pm

    Check out the new article about the book at the Denver Running Examiner at:–local-runner-mom-and-author-releases-book

    Can’t wait to write a review and do an interview. Good luck on the tour. We’re very excited for you.

  25. Renada R. permalink
    March 18, 2010 5:59 am

    I got up to 88 and that felt pretty good, but it took me three tries before I was able to maintain concentration long enough to count the entire 30 seconds. It made me realize how much I normally try and distract myself during my runs rather than tuning into what my body is doing and how it feels. Maybe I’ll focus on improving my turnover and concentration at the same time!

  26. Christine White permalink
    March 18, 2010 7:32 am

    This task was my motivation to get out on my run today. After a night out with the girls two nights ago and a sleepless 5 month old the same night, a busy day yesterday including an 8.5 mile pace run, I was much more tempted by the pot of coffee sitting in the kitchen. But while a drank my second cup, I went online and found this task, and wah-lah! On went the running clothes and out the door I went.

    Of course, I completed my 3.5 mile recovery run and realized I completely forgot to count. Actually, I don’t remember a thing about my run today. So I went back out, gingerly opening the door so not to wake the kiddos, and ran for another minute. I got 96 on the first try and 94 on the second.

  27. March 18, 2010 8:17 am

    This was very interesting to try out. Apparently, I lengthen my stride when I go downhill, but my flats and uphill are around 86-88. Not too bad, but I’m definitely going to start paying attention and see where I am more often. It might help give me something to focus on when I’m having a rough patch too!

  28. March 18, 2010 8:17 am

    Hahaha! 90, that’s funny! I am a super-slogger, at 5’9″ and on the heavy side. This morning I counted 74. Which is just fine by me, I enjoy myself, am injury free and not in a race with anyone but the sun. 🙂

  29. Andrea S permalink
    March 18, 2010 8:28 am

    I got a 78 -83 at a pretty comfortable pace on the treadmill. Can’t wait to get my book!!

  30. Danielle permalink
    March 18, 2010 8:33 am

    I love it! I actually feel lighter on my feet and am able to keep a decent pace without feeling like I’m working as hard. I was able to get 170 without too much effort (just focus) but 180 was hard! I’ll keep focusing on it and I think it will gradually increase. This is a great focus whenever I am tempted to think about something hurting or being hard.

  31. Danielle permalink
    March 18, 2010 8:34 am

    Obviously I was talking about both feet in a minute, not just one foot! 🙂

  32. March 18, 2010 8:48 am

    I came up with 179 for both feet for the minute. So 180 is ideal? wow I’m almost there. I purposely didn’t look at the ideal number because I didn’t wanna cheat.
    I am a forefoot striker so maybe that’s it.
    And honestly my hamstrings, achilles, hips, glutes are so darn tight I probably couldn’t overstride if I had to.
    I am first in line for a compression body stocking–as soon as someone comes up with that sort of thing.

  33. March 18, 2010 9:13 am

    I’ve never heard of this. I got my run in earlier this morning after reading this, so I just ran around my house and counted my steps for 30 seconds, I came in at 88 steps. Does that count? I got to look this a little more, sounds interesting. Happy running y’all!

  34. March 18, 2010 9:40 am

    Every time I’ve counted I do 85. I’ve always heard that IS the magic number….and no matter how fast or slow you go that’s the “best” number to hit. I still don’t get the physics behind that since we all have different leg lengths… ???
    Thanks for the great post. Love your blog.

  35. March 18, 2010 9:58 am

    I did this last night and came up with 85. I had never done this before…didn’t even know there was a specific number you were suppose to hit…I think this will be a new thing I will follow to see if I improve as I train for my first marathon this fall.
    It is also neat that the Garmin helps you do this. I plan on getting my Garmin in May…Can’t wait!

    Oh yeah….LOVE, LOVE, LOVE the brooks shoes! Keeping my little fingers and toes crossed!

    Happy Running!

  36. March 18, 2010 10:30 am

    92…who would have thought. I’m interested to try it when I’m pushing the stroller or in the early morning darkness (I’m a little timid on a dark road).

    Awesome blog btw…I came over from twelve fit feet…can’t wait to read more!

  37. March 18, 2010 10:46 am

    I came in at 89 steps. I was running at a 10:20 pace– my “happy pace.”

  38. March 18, 2010 10:51 am

    There’s CAFFEINATED GUM???

  39. Julie Fredericks permalink
    March 18, 2010 12:47 pm

    Hope you are doing PST – my run was delayed by an ant exterminator and now I am almost last for pre-k pickup, but had to get my chance in for free shoes.

    So I am also the one who has 3 watches with dead batteries so counting was chanllenging. Using the time counter on my ipod for a song, I did the best I could and came up with 84. So now the dilema – is this a problem I try to solve, or since my run felt good and I relatively injury free should I just be happy with my 84.

  40. Katie permalink
    March 24, 2010 12:36 pm

    I tried this, and in order to get 90, my watch said I was doing a 7:40 pace. Seems I’m not doing something right, how do I keep that high of a cadence at a pace I can sustain for more than a mile? (and barely at that) 🙂

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