We have been studying pacing, the biomechanics and bioacoustics of the human footfall, and gait analysis at the Medical & Sports Music Institute of America for ten years. Our first contract in 1986 was with the NIKE Corporation, who supplied us with elite runners from Athletics West, under the direction of Dick Brown. Our project called for recording the sound of runners in their NIKE Odyssey Air Shoes. 

We were interested in studying the behavior of the shoe itself as well as the behavioral analysis of the runner in the shoes. Our initial study called for recording runners at a slow jogging pace which we performed at 150 steps per minute, a slow jogging pace. In subsequent recordings, we recorded male and female runners in the club up to sprints at 220 steps per minute. Over time we discovered that any pace less than 150 steps per minute was not biomechanically a running gait anymore, but rather a loping type gait. One could run at 140 steps per minute, but it was not a natural gait. We later began clocking footfall frequency of recreational runners, which I shall discuss in the paragraph on running. 

In recording the actual foot strike in an air shoe, most runners would strike with their heel first. In these recordings there was a distinct triplet in the impact of each footfall. Each foot stride would make a heel-followthrough-liftoff sound (three distinct sounds). This triplet or rocker-like rhythm became a very crucial component because we were later to discover that this rocker-like motion of the footfall actually helped reduce the impact of the footfall. In air shoes the amplitude of the impact was reduced, and the wave-form of the impact was rounded with less of a spike than would be produced in street shoes, for example. So, instead of creating music for the air shoe by starting with a drum section using an attack-style drum beat with a spiked wave form, we used the rhythm and sound of the footfall itself to score the music. This reduced the trauma of the impact of the running beat itself. 

We initially scored one minute of music to the air shoe rhythm, then scored a whole hour at 150 beats per minute. We then recreated the music in 64 paces from 100 beats per minute to 220. The resulting health maintenance compliance technology for pacing was named MUSIC-IN-SYNC, VOL. I. So, we then had all the tempos we need for walking, running, cycling and skiing. Now, one could use a metronome to ensure pace compliance. But a metronome can become very annoying, it offers no motivation, and virtually no emotional or dramatic development such as you would hear in a major motion picture movie score. But if pace compliance is all you are looking for, a metronome will certainly work. 


But what is the right pace for me? 

This is probably the most frequent question we get at the institute. Of course, we always tell people that it depends on their goals and their health and fitness level. Unless you are an athlete, it is not important how fast your feet are going as it is how fast your heart is going when you are walking for exercise. If your goal is weight loss, we suggest a slower pace of 3 mph which is approximately 60-70% of your Maximum Heart Rate. This is not quite in the aerobic zone for many people. What is important for weight loss is distance covered and time spent (which should be 1-2 hours per day). This pace then projects out to about 120 steps per minute. 

To get in your aerobic zone you want to achieve closer to 75% of your heart rate. But you only need to go this fast for 20-30 minutes three times a week. This requires a faster pace of closer to 140 steps per minute. 

If your goal is endurance and increased fitness and/or mile time, you will need to get your heart pumping in the 80-90% of your Maximum Heart Rate. This begins at 160 steps (beats) per minute. Then eventually you increase the pace to 170 steps per minute. This pace should eventually help you generate a 12-minute-mile pace which is a race walk pace. But remember, this takes time. You need to develop your aerobic capacity as well as your lean muscle mass, strength and flexibility, before you attempt this pace and faster. Most walkers need at least a year to develop paces of 170 spm (12 minute mile) or faster. 

Interestingly, many people are exercising at different paces on different days or time frames, using all of the above paces. This is because they have all three goals in mind: weight loss, aerobic conditioning, and increased endurance and speed. Combining paces in a workout is known as Interval Training and is an excellent way to accelerate your health and fitness conditioning, and can even speed recovery from sports injuries. 

For those of you who use the Borg Scale of Perceived Exertion, you can count your repetitions per minute to find the pace which is synchronized to the level your physiatrist, exercise physiologist, physical therapist, or personal trainer have determined appropriate for you. Cardiac Rehabilitation Specialist usually begin their patients at around 3 mph on a treadmill which clocks out to around 120 steps (beats) per minute. In clocking pace for motorized treadmills, we discovered that it takes more steps per minute in terms of pace to produce the same Target Heart Rate, or a higher mph, because the motor is doing half of the work. A non-motorized treadmill required less mph, or steps per minute to produce the same Target Heart Rate because in addition to the work load of walking, the walker had to also power the treadmill, in effect, becoming the motor for the treadmill. In all of these cases, it was the Heart Rate which was the most important thing to watch. The pace or steps per minute of the walker must then be adjusted to conform to the right Target Heart Rate. So, walking in the woods, on a motorized treadmill, and a non-motorized treadmill, would require three different paces or mph to produce the same Target Heart Rate. This is why pace tapes have become increasingly valuable to produce Target Heart Rate compliance during exercise

Matching up beats per minute to miles per hour for walking, running and cycling became a completely new process which involved clocking footfall frequencies of thousands of walkers and runners. We did this by simply counting how many steps per minute they took and then factoring it into the time they would walk or run a mile. In testing steps per minute, we discovered that a person can walk the entire range of tempos from 100 to 220 steps or beats per minute. Racewalking biomechanics, necessary to produce a 12-minute-mile pace (5 mph), begins around 170 steps (beats per minute). The following table indicates empirically tested steps per minute for each mph for walking


LEVEL 1: VERY INACTIVE: 80-100 steps per minute = 2 mph (30 minute mile)

LEVEL 2: LIGHTLY ACTIVE: 120 steps per minute = 3 mph (20 minute mile)

LEVEL 3: MODERATELY ACTIVE: 130 steps per minute = 3.5 mph (17-18 minute mile)

LEVEL 4: ACTIVE: 140 steps per minute = 4 mph (15 minute mile)

LEVEL 5: VERY ACTIVE: 150 steps per minute = 4.3 mph (14 minute mile)

LEVEL 6: EXCEPTIONALLY ACTIVE: 160 steps per minute = 4.6 mph (13 minute mile)

LEVEL 7: ATHLETE: 170 steps per minute = 5 mph (12 minute mile) 

LEVEL 8: ATHLETE: 180 steps per minute = 5.5 mph (11 minute mile)

LEVEL 9: ATHLETE: 190 steps per minute = 6.0 mph (9-10 minute mile) 

These steps per minute are the equivalent of beats per minute in music or with a metronome. So when walking at the steps (beats) per minute the resulting pace projected is shown in the above chart. Remember your walking pace is not a guarantee, only a projection, as you could walk in place going 0 mph at 190 steps per minute. 

If you are interested in knowing your own exact personalized pace and stride length, you can obtain your own precise steps per minute-mile equivalent. Simply walk one mile and clock the time. While walking, count how many times your feet hit the ground for one minute. 

Divide 5,280 by your minute-mile time. Divide this figure by how many steps you took in one minute. This will give you your stride length. Now if you want to improve your time, then divide 5,280 by the stride length you now have. Divide this figure by the time of your new minute mile goal. This calculation will tell you approximately how many steps per minute you must now walk to achieve your improved time goal. 


Pacing for most running ranges from 150-220 steps per minute. 150 steps is the equivalent to a 10-minute-mile (6 mph) jog. The best way for me to discuss running pacing is to give you my response to an e-mail I received on running. A runner from Iceland found our running and pacing web site on the internet. He was inquiring about methods to make his running more enjoyable. 

He indicated that a well known coach who he quoted from a running magazine, indicated that you should use 180-190 steps per minute-no matter what pace you are running. This running coach is correct in some respects. 180-190 spm only applies to elite runners and athletes who are capable of sustaining 5+ minute miles for a 26.2 mile marathon. In actuality even these runners train at shorter distances and pace, in terms of steps per minute and mph, doing training at 160-180 spm footfall frequency. A large majority of runners we clocked in marathons were maintaining 5-minute-mile paces at 160 steps per minute (male and female). 

We clocked sprinters running a 880 yards to mile distance at 180-220 spm. But these same runners would run 160 spm in training. The theory of constant footfall frequency at all speeds, however, has almost no application to recreation runners or runners who are in rehabilitation from sports injuries in water tanks. Recreational runners constitute 95% of all runners. 

Statistically and biomechanically, we have discovered that it takes a minimum of 150 spm to achieve a running gait. Recreational runners do not have the muscle mass, aerobic capacity, or flexibility to achieve great stride lengths necessary to run at footfall frequencies of 180-190 spm and running in water tanks is greatly restricted by the resistance of the water. In this regard, it is possible to run in the water from only 100-140 steps per minute-much less than the 180-190 recommended by the above runner coach. In another example; a recreational runner will run an 8-9 minute mile pace at 160 spm, while an elite runner can run a 5 minute mile at the very same 160 steps per minute. But there is another problem with using same footfall frequency no matter what the pace. And that is Target Heart Rate. An elite runner would have no problem maintaining 180-190 spm for great distances. However, if many recreational runners and people in weight-loss programs attempt 180-190 spm, many could not sustain it and would put their heart at great danger if this pace produced a heart rate far above their Target Heart Rate, or recommendation by their cardiologist. 


LEVEL 5: VERY ACTIVE: 150 steps per minute = 6.0 mph (10-11 minute mile)

LEVEL 6: EXCEPTIONALLY ACTIVE: 160 steps per minute = 6.7 mph (9 minute mile)

LEVEL 7: ATHLETE: 170 steps per minute = 7.5 mph (8 minute mile)

LEVEL 8: ATHLETE: 180 steps per minute = 8.8 mph (7 minute mile)

LEVEL 9: ATHLETE: 190 steps per minute = 10-12 mph (5-6 minute mile) 


"Aerobic cycling" is the latest rage in fitness. In reality, it has been around for as long as stationary bikes. In fact, aerobic cycling is performed on a stationary bike-the difference is that the bikes and wind trainers are now more sophisticated and high-tech than ever! And with respect to cycling, determining your Target Heart Rate for exercise is identical for aerobic cycling as it is for walking and running. In fact, the steps per minute correspond to cycling with the same footfall frequency necessary to achieve a given Target Heart Rate. The only difference is that cycling requires two footfalls to generate one rpm. Example, 120 steps per minute = 60 rpm, or 190 steps per minute = 85 rpm. We use the same criteria of weight loss goal, percent body fat, blood pressure, and the amount of time a person vigorously exercises a week to determine their health and fitness level, and in turn, make recommendations as to the pace they should pedal, walk, run, ski, and now, even ride on a rider. Pacing begins at about 50 rpm for beginning cardiac rehabilitation and first time exercisers. 50 rpm is the equivalent 100 steps per minute, or 2 mph for a walker. This produces on the average a 50-60% of Maximum Heart Rate. Very fit people exercise at 80 rpm (160 bpm), which is a THR of about 75-80% of MHR. Elite cyclists windtrainer at 90-95 rpm (180-190 bpm) generating a THR of 90-95% MHR. 


LEVEL 1: VERY INACTIVE: 50 rpm (100 beats or steps per minute)

LEVEL 2: LIGHTLY ACTIVE: 60 rpm (120 beats or steps per minute)

LEVEL 3: MODERATELY ACTIVE: 65 rpm (130 beats or steps per minute)

LEVEL 4: ACTIVE: 70 rpm (140 beats or steps per minute)

LEVEL 5: VERY ACTIVE: 75 rpm (150 beats or steps per minute)

LEVEL 6: EXCEPTIONALLY ACTIVE: 80 rpm (160 beats or steps per minute)

LEVEL 7: ATHLETE: 85 rpm (170 beats or steps per minute)

LEVEL 8: ATHLETE: 90 rpm (180 beats or steps per minute)

LEVEL 9: ATHLETE: 95 rpm (190 beats or steps per minute) 


For most health and fitness levels and goals, the important measurement is how fast your heart is beating-not how fast your feet are hitting the ground, treadmill, or stationary bike. By using a heart-rate monitor, you will first want to run only as fast as necessary to drop you in your Target Heart Rate Zone. Only then should you count your steps per minute-whether walking or 
running. Once you have counted your steps per minute-and we recommend doing it often to get an average, then you can use a metronome or music pace tape at the same steps per minute. Once you are in your Target Heart Rate Zone, your steps per minute or rpm on a stationary bike, are a much more reliable index than miles per hour. Reason: the same mph might produce three very different heart rates for the same individual, for walking, depending on whether you are walking ground based, walking on a motorized treadmill, walking on a non-motorized treadmill, or walking in the water. Tempo-based precision music pace-tapes can then work just like cruise-control on your car, keeping you motivated as well as at the pace which is synchronized to your Target Heart Rate. 

We have even heard runners say that music pace-tapes help numb the pain and reduce perceived exertion.