Apple Watch is steadily evolving into a more capable sports watch, and the upcoming watchOS 5 software update continues that trend with yoga and hiking workouts, automatic workout detection, and new ways to see heart rate data. Specifically for runners is a new way to train with pace alerts and cadence — features coming to existing Apple Watches in a free software update expected in September.
Cadence is simply a measure of steps per minute that you take while running. Improving your cadence can directly affect the efficiency of your stride, translate to faster run times, and even minimize the chance of injury.
Cadence can be measured by counting the number of steps you take during a 60-second period — which is a handy distraction tool for enduring a difficult run — or you can let Apple Watch do it for you starting in watchOS 5.
Apple Watch can show you both average cadence and current cadence for both outdoor runs and indoor runs. You can see cadence during your workout by customizing which metrics are displayed. iOS 12 and watchOS 5 or higher are required.
From the iPhone, go to the Watch app → My Watch tab → Workout section → Workout View section → Outdoor Run or Indoor Run section → Tap Edit. You can have up to five metrics displayed per workout type so you may need to remove one or two metrics before including either cadence metric. Once included, cadence will be displayed as a numeral and SPM, or steps per minute, during your outdoor run or indoor run workout.
Active.com says that many recreational runners have a cadence of around 150 steps per minute while elite runners often run at 180 steps per minute:
The majority of elite runners strike the ground around 180 to 184 times each minute. This cadence remains whether they are running a 1500-meter race or a marathon. […]
Running economy is all about how efficiently you use oxygen at a certain pace. The more efficient you are in using it, the better your running economy. Running cadence is inextricably linked to economy because it affects the way you strike the ground. Better form and optimal cadence translates into improved running economy and faster times. […]
Once you have a number—many recreational runners strike between 150 and 155 times per minute—begin working to improve it.
If you’re looking for ways to take your run to the next level, monitoring and improving cadence is one of the new ways coming to Apple Watch in watchOS 5.
Outdoor runners can also improve training with Apple Watch using newly added pace alerts in watchOS 5. This feature lets you set a target pace ahead of your run, then you can receive an alert when you go above or below your target pace. Runners can even choose between one of two ways of measuring pace: average mile or rolling mile, a new metric for Apple Watch that shows your pace for the exact mile up to your current point.
While cadence needs to be configured from the Watch app on iPhone first, pace alerts are set directly on the Apple Watch before an outdoor run.
Launch the Workout app on Apple Watch → scroll to the Outdoor Run tile → tap the … option button on the top right → scroll down and tap Set Pace Alert → tap Set Alert → choose between Average or Rolling.
Your target pace can be anywhere between 5’00” and 12’00”, and your selection sticks once set. You can return here to switch between Average or Rolling before any workout, or you can turn off pace alerts from the same section.
From there the only thing left to do is go for an outdoor run — the longer the better — and start using pace alerts to help you speed up or slow down depending on your goal. My disdain for the treadmill and indoor running is strong, but I do appreciate being able to set my target on a single pace and stick to it. With pace alerts in watchOS 5, Apple Watch can help you train and match that experience.
iOS 12 for iPhone and watchOS 5 for Apple Watch are currently in beta and expected to be released to customers later next month. Cadence works with both indoor runs and outdoor runs; pace alerts work with outdoor runs.