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How To Use A Running Metronome

The human body runs on rhythm. Our circadian rhythms tell our bodies when to sleep and when to wake. Our hearts beat in a structured and steady way. We breathe evenly.

We walk steadily and in a measured way. Even when we’re bored, we tap our feet or fingers rhythmically.

It makes sense, then, that we run with rhythm. Learning how to use a running metronome can help you to take full advantage of that rhythm!

The metric that matters here is your cadence. This is the number of steps you take per minute when running at your normal pace.

Can you see how this corresponds to the beats per minute that a metronome ticks at?

Here’s how you can improve your cadence (and in turn, your performance) by learning to run to a metronome.

Pro Tip: It’s not as boring as it sounds!

What is a Metronome?

A metronome is an old-school gadget that keeps time. Not like a watch or a clock, but it keeps timing in beats per minute.

You can set a metronome to beep, click, or make another sound at regular intervals. Old-fashioned metronomes used to have an upright arm that you could set to a particular beats-per-minute interval. Then you’d simply swing the arm and it would tick at your set timing.

Modern metronomes are mostly digital. You can download an app or purchase a small handheld metronome. Most of these can be clipped to a running belt or shirt collar so you can hear the beep easily.

They’re most often used by musicians to help them play at the right timing for the song. For runners, they serve a similar purpose. It’s all about the timing of your stride.

You should be aiming to land one of your feet on each beep. We’ll go into more detail further down about how exactly to structure this when running to music.

Why Should Runners Use A Metronome?

Why does the timing of your stride even matter? Well, learning how to run to a metronome will help to improve your cadence, otherwise known as your foot turnover.

The better your cadence, the less your ground contact time. That means your feet will spend less time engaging with the ground, so your push-off is faster.

The less time your feet spend in contact with the ground, the less leg power you require to run. This is because gravity does a lot of the work for you. Your core, upper body, and cardiovascular system work harder, burning more calories.

Less time in contact with the ground also means healthier joints. The less time you spend on the ground, the less impact and compressive forces your joints have to deal with, leading to a reduced chance of injury.

It may feel awkward and silly at first. But if you stick to it for about 4 weeks, it will feel more natural and you should also begin to notice a positive change in your performance.

What’s an Ideal Cadence?

It’s generally accepted in the running world that 170 to 180 beats (or steps) per minute is the ideal cadence. That means each foot hits the ground 85 to 90 times in one minute.

Most non-elite runners are running at a cadence below this. A metronome can help you get into a habit of running at this cadence. Practice is important, but eventually muscle memory will kick in and your cadence will remain at this level.

What’s the Goal of Using the Metronome?

The metronome is a simple instrument. But when you’re trying to improve your running cadence, it’s the best thing to use!

There’s almost no way to keep track of your cadence without a structured beat guiding you. How will you know how many beats/steps per minute you’re hitting if you don’t have something providing real-time information?

It’s also super easy to change your cadence as your run goes and your muscles fatigue. You most likely won’t even realize you’re doing it until you’re following a beat!

That’s what the metronome does. The goal is to help the runner maintain a high cadence throughout their run.

Does It Make Me Run Faster?

It’s important to know that increasing your cadence will not necessarily increase your pace.

But that’s not the main goal.

We’re working to increase the number of steps you take at your current pace, not increase your pace itself.

That being said, once your cadence has improved to the point where it’s muscle memory, your pace may be improved simply because your form and performance have improved as a result of your cadence.

Can I Substitute Music for a Metronome?

Yes! This is actually one of the best ways to stick to a beat. All you need to do is put together a playlist of songs that are the right tempo!

There’s a bit of math involved here. In music, 102 to 110 beats per minute is considered moderately fast. 168 and upwards is considered to be extremely fast.

But if you’re aiming for a cadence of 170 beats per minute, you don’t have to listen to a bunch of really fast music. It’s easier to halve that number and, instead of doing a beat per foot, you stick to just one foot.

For example, if you ran to a song of 170 beats per minute, your goal would be to land one foot on each beat. Left, right, left, right, left, right… For the entire song.

But when you halve the beat (to 85), you only need to focus on one foot. So on each beat, you’d get left, left, left, left. Or right, right, right, right. Basically, the “other” beat (for your other foot) is silent.

Make sense? You’re still running at the same cadence.

Weav, an app developed by Google Maps co-creator Lars Rasmussen, is designed to match your music to your stride for a cohesive running and listening experience!

There are two modes you can choose from. Match My Stride speeds up or slows down the pace of your music to match whatever your cadence is at the time. Fixed Tempo keeps the beat the same, which is ideal for working on improving your cadence.

You can’t upload your own music, but the app features around 500 top songs, including hits from Shakira, Outkast, and J-Lo (to name just a few).

How to Use the Metronome

Determine Your Current Cadence

A quick and easy way to determine your cadence is to set off on a run at your usual pace. Set a timer for 60 seconds, and start it as you take your first step. Count how many times your feet hit the ground until the alarm goes off.

If you already have a metronome, here’s how to use it to find your cadence. Set off for an easy run. Have your metronome with you, and set it to 170 bpm. Turn the volume off so you don’t alter your pace.

Run for about 5 minutes at your usual pace. Then, turn the volume of your metronome on again. Now, instead of matching your steps to the beep, try and match the beep to your steps.

You’ll need to concentrate! Keep your pace exactly the same, or as close to the same as you can. Use your metronome’s setting buttons to decrease the beat until it aligns perfectly with your feet hitting the ground.

Once you find that sweet spot, that’s your cadence!

Run At This Cadence for One Week

Once you know your cadence, run at that level for a full week. Every time you go for a run, set your metronome to your cadence and maintain it for your full run.

This doesn’t mean you need to maintain a steady pace! In fact, we advise varying your pace so that you can get used to running at the same cadence even when your pace changes.

You should be hitting the same bpm whether you’re running slowly or fast, and it should also remain steady whether you’re going up a hill or descending.

You may need to focus extra hard for the first few days, but if you work on it for a full week you should be starting to form a habit by the end of the week.

Increase Your Cadence Slowly

It can be tempting to leap up from your current cadence to 170/180 in one or two weeks. But it won’t be easy on the body.

Instead of making a drastic change, increase your cadence by one or two beats per minute every week.

This may sound like it will take forever, but trust us! You’ll hardly notice the increase and you end up basically tricking your body into increasing cadence without even feeling it!

Go too fast too soon and you’re leaving yourself open to injury and over-exertion.

Use Your New Cadence to Improve Your Form

Improving your cadence can be the perfect opportunity to improve your form too. Focusing on a few specific things can help you to improve both!

In the beginning, you should be focusing on hitting that bpm and getting your muscle memory used to your new cadence.

But once you’ve got that working for you, you can focus on these things to help improve your form.

  • Instead of landing with each beat, try to lift your foot with each beat.
  • Try to land with your foot beneath your body, not in front of you.
  • Lean forward to accelerate, stand up straight to brake.

Tips for Running with a Metronome

Not too sure how to use a running metronome most effectively? Here are some tips and tricks to help you out!

Practice

Don’t expect huge changes in a week or two. In fact, you’ll most likely feel awkward and a bit silly when you shorten your stride. For 4 to 6 weeks, you may feel uncomfortable and like your performance is actually suffering.

Don’t be fooled and give in early, though! Stick to it for 4 weeks at the minimum and you should find that your shorter stride becomes more natural. Muscle memory will kick in and after a while, a longer stride will feel unnatural!

Run on a Treadmill

If you’re nervous about having to concentrate so hard while you’re out on your run, try to make the transition on a treadmill instead.

Having to navigate traffic, other runners, and uneven terrain can make it hard to focus on hitting your stride properly.

Running on a treadmill can eliminate distractions and make it easier to focus on developing the habit safely.

Be Patient

As we’ve mentioned, 4 to 6 weeks is a good time frame for becoming comfortable with your new cadence. Patience is key!

If you give up too soon, you could be missing out on an easy way to improve your performance and reduce muscle and joint strain!

If you struggle to stick to it for more than a week or two, try enlisting a friend or family member to do the same thing with you. You can motivate each other and you’ll have someone to be accountable to.

Run Safely

If you’re using earphones and you’re running on the road, keep one earphone out so you can be aware of your surroundings.

If this doesn’t work for you or you’d prefer to hear your music in surround sound, invest in a set of bone conduction headphones!

The Wired Runner