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 Cadence Training

Author by Lindsay Mondick, BS


Cadence can be applied to multiple sports (cycling, running, swimming strokes, etc.).  Cadence, also known as stride rate or revolutions rate is the number of steps a runner takes per minute (SPM) or the number of pedal revolutions as cyclist makes per minute (RPM).  In swimming, it can also be measured in stroke rate, or the time it takes to make one full cycle from hand entry through the underwater pull to recovery and back to hand entry.

Why is cadence important? It is often the most common metric used to measure running and cycling form.  In swimming, swim speed is equal to stroke rate times stroke length.   In all sports, technique is paramount.

  • In running, arm carriage and foot fall are important for developing a running gait, but the easiest way to improve form is focus on running cadence.  It is important to note that correct cadence can vary by individual.
  • In cycling, if you increase and train your cadence, this can lead to improvements in your cycling efficiency, allowing you to pedal longer and faster.
  • In swimming, if your stroke rate is too fast, your underwater pull may be inefficient.  Often in swimming we look at the speed equation, along with stroke length. 


Tips for Bringing Cadence (Running) Training to the Pool

Maintain proper form. Closely mimic your running form on land by running in the deep end of the pool.  To perform cadence training in the pool, you are not supposed to touch the pool floor.  Just like running on land, you need to keep your back straight, chest erect and the shoulders relaxed and down.  You want to lift through your spine and cervical vertebrae and lean forward in a total body incline of no more than 10-15 degrees.  As you incline, ensure your maintaining neutral spine and neck does not enter hyper-extension or flexion.   Find a focal point at eye level in from of you to help keep he head level.

Focus on knee and foot drive. Focus on driving your knee up and then driving your foot down and slightly back.  Your stride in the water will slightly mimic that of a cyclist and may be more up and down than usual.  In the water, we only do the back half of the running motion; that is, there is no forward reach with the foreleg and foot. If you can see your feet during your run, you are not running correctly. Keep in mind that one knee lifts as the other foot drives down and back. 

Use your arms. Arms play a role in enhancing the stride and overall balance and you want them to swim effectively.  Your elbows should maintain about a 90- degree angle at your elbow and swinging forward and back.  If while looking forward, you can see your hands during the full stroke while you run, you are probably carrying them too far forward.  They should disappear below and behind your peripheral vision on each of your backswings to enhance driving your energy forward.  One simple cue: on every stride, your hand should brush your waistband as it passes by, backward and forward.

Maintain a good cadence pace.  You want to maintain a quick turn-over or step per minute (SPM).  Most runners have a goal of at least 175 strides/steps per minute.  Many people fail at pool running with maintaining a low cadence.  Trying to take slower strides can allow for overextension of the legs in the water and can lead to hamstring strain.

Use a flotation belt. A belt will ensure you work harder, and allow you to work against the resistance of the water while maintaining your form. 

Use fartlek style training. Fartlek runs challenge the body to adapt to various speeds.  The term “fartlek” is a Swedish term which means “speed play”.  It is a training method that blends continuous (endurance) training with interval (speed) training.  Most run workouts typically target one or two paces, and a basic long run is done at a single, steady pace.  Unlike intervals, where you stop of walk for recovery, fartlek is continuous running and involves varying your pace throughout your workout.  It is great for a variety of fitness levels and can be customized according to personal preference and current training situation.

Monitor your heart rate. It is important to keep your heartrate up.  Your overall average heart rate (HR) should be higher for a fartlek workout than for intervals, because a jogging recovery also means that heartrate does not drop as low during recovery portions.

Determine level of effort. These workouts are all based on effort.  Consider using 3 effort levels when designing workouts:

Sprint (100% effort) – can last 15-30 seconds

Hard (90% effort) – can last 2-5 minutes

Tempo (80% effort) – can last 5-10 minutes

Travel may not be the intent. The point of cadence training may not be to travel anywhere, but focus on turnover rate and good form.  So keep the chest lifted, or get a tether to assist with form.  You can attach the tether to a ladder or starting block.  If on a tether, runners can focus on the mental part of the workout and reaching intensity levels.

Use the active recovery time. Consider using the active recovery time to squeeze in other exercises which strengthen muscles in different ways and break-up the forward and backward motion.

Sample Workouts

These three sample workouts are just examples of what you can do in the pool.  Whether an avid runners needing cross-training, looking to maintain fitness while injured, or just wanting a boost to your current workout, the options are only limited by your imagination. Reminder a dynamic warm-up is required before these workouts!

Workout 1: 45 minutes

  • 10 minutes easy pool running
  • 20 minutes: 10 cycles of 1 minute of hard effort, with 1 minute tempo or active recovery
  • 10 minutes: 10 cycles of 30 seconds at sprint effort with 30 seconds tempo or active recovery
  • 5 minutes easy warm-down


Workout 2: 50-60 minutes

  • 10-15 minutes easy pool running
  • 33 minutes: Pyramid workout: 1’, 2’, 3’, 4’, 5’, 4’, 3’, 2’, 1’ at hard effort except the 5’ session which is at tempo.  All intervals have 1-minute of active recovery after the hard effort.
  • 10-15 minutes easy warm-down


Workout 3: 90 minutes

  • 15 minutes easy pool running
  • 30 minutes: 5 cycles of 5 minute at tempo effort, with 1-minute active recovery
  • 14 minutes: 4 cycles of 3 minutes at hard effort with 1 minute active recovery
  • 9 minutes: 6 cycles of 30 seconds at sprint effort with 1 minute active recovery
  • 21 minutes easy warm-down


Take these cadence tips to the pool to expand your training options and enhance your fitness outcomes.



Lindsay Mondick, BS, is the Director of Innovative Priorities at the YMCA of the USA.  In addition to her work at the YMCA, Lindsay is also is a presenter and continuing education provider for the YMCA, ACE and AEA and a training specialist for AEA.  Lindsay holds certifications through AEA, ACE, YMCA, and American Red Cross, She is a regular contributing author to the AEA's Akwa magazine. 

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