What Counting Your Steps Will Teach You About the Value of Running

Many shoeprints in fresh snow

This is post #4 in a 6-part series I’m doing in a sponsored partnership with Garmin and Whole Foods. (Not to mention the 9th day in a row I’ve published a new post, which I think is pretty awesome.)

Before this year began, I had no idea how many steps I took each day. 4,000? 10,000? 20,000?

Honestly if I had to guess without doing any math, any of those could have been it.

Now, I’m really tuned in. At the end of the day, with a glance right before bed at my vívofit, I see my step count — a little daily score to tell me how I did.

Five digits, I’m happy. Any fewer, and I remind myself to move just a little more tomorrow.

Here’s the biggest takeaway for me, though: just how dramatically the length of my run each day affects my step count. It’s way more than I realized … and that makes me want to never go a week without running again.

To put some numbers to it …

For the first week of the #writeandrun31 challenge, which started on January 1st, I decided to run for 20 minutes per day. At 180 steps per minute (more on this number in a bit), that’s 3600 steps each day, just from running. My total average daily steps that week: about 9700.

So what does this mean? Essentially, that running for just 20 minutes accounted for over 37 percent of my total steps! (Put differently, running for 20 minutes increased my step count from 6100 to 9700.)

But it gets more interesting. Add 10 more minutes to that 20-minute run — and this is what I was doing last week, because I’ve been adding 5 minutes each week — and you get 5400 running steps, 11,500 total for the day. (Turns out my total daily steps this week averaged 11,543 … pretty close!)

Now we’re talking almost 50 percent (47, to be accurate) of your steps coming from running.

This strikes me as a pretty big deal: if you’re like like me, adding just a 30-minute run to your day nearly doubles the number of steps you take!

(This, of course, assumes all else is held equal: in particular, that you’d be sedentary during those 30 minutes if you didn’t run. Also, it doesn’t account for any effects of running on the rest of your day. Does more running mean more energy, and therefore even more steps? Or does it drain you, and lead to fewer steps afterward? Probably depends on the person.)

3 More Ways to Incorporate Step-Awareness into Your Running

The topic of this fourth post in the series was supposed to be “Ways to Earn Your Steps,” but running is really the only way of accumulating steps that I pay attention to. (Well, that and walking up and down the hallway before bed if I’m close to a big number, or to my daily vívofit-generated goal.)

So I figured instead of more ways to earn your steps, I’d mention a few ways that paying attention to steps has helped me as a runner, and might just help you too:

  1. 180 steps per minute is the turnover rate that I try to hit on every run. Along with running most of my mileage at a slow, conversational pace, this simple change in focus helped me to stop getting injured and finally start improving as a runner (after a lot of injury frustrations the first few years). I’ve written about 180 steps per minute before, so check that out for more details here.
  2. Change things up by running “for steps”: instead of running for mileage or for time, run for total steps. So for example, if it’s a 25 minute run I’m aiming for, then sometimes I’ll run until I reach 4500 steps (25 minutes times 180 steps per minute). I like this because it keeps my focus on taking quicker steps (so I can be finished already!), instead of allowing me to get lazy and slow my turnover, as often happens near the end of a run.
  3. Assuming you maintain a mostly-constant turnover rate, lining your breath up with your steps (for example: in 3 steps, out 3 steps) is a really meditative and interesting way to monitor your exertion: you know right away when you start working harder, say on a hill or simply because you sped up, because suddenly those breaths feel too long. Note: if you’re going to try this, it’s better to choose something like “in 3 steps, out 2 steps” instead of an even division, so that you start each new breath on the opposite foot — turns out that you land harder on your first “exhale” step. Lots more about that distinction here.

And one more reason to give these a try: while each of these can actually help you run better, they’re also all great for occupying your mind. And that matters — take it from the guy who so struggles with boredom that he came up with 63 Ways to Shake Up Your Running Routine. 🙂

Whole Foods Gift Card Winner!

We had 348 entries into the $100 Whole Foods gift card contest, and the winner, chosen at random, is …

Erin! (Not my wife, different Erin.) Erin mentioned using frozen veggies for soups and stews, and buying things like lentils and beans in bulk as her ways to save money while eating healthily. Congrats Erin, and thanks to everyone who left a comment — we’ve got a ton of great tips there now!



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  1. Matt! You are such an inspiration. The fact that you’re writing every day has motivated me to post on my Facebook page every day as well. It may not be writing whole blog posts (yet!) but it’s a step in the right direction. Thank you!

  2. Enric Martinez says:

    Never thought on how many steps I do. I do train for a 180 spm cadence, same as you. I was doing that for quite a lot of time but I found out that I was neglecting it lately. In the past I used a foot-pod to get the cadence (using a Forerunner 60, nice device but lacking GPS), after switching to a Timex Ironman GPS (a multisport) I finally got myself a Forerunner 220: What I do is that I create the workouts in Garmin Connect using cadence as a parameter instead of pace or heart rate. The nice part is that I don’t have to bother setting up the screens, it works out of the box.

    One word of caution: You need to enter the values on the website at HALF the rate that you aim for (little bug, has been reported already).

    What I have never thought on was on counting steps, I find it an interesting fact but I don’t think it’s relevant if you train for competition while cadence is extremely important.

  3. I’ve been back and forth as to whether I want a Vivo or Fitbit type gadget. I assume I get a high amount of steps because I’m on my feet all day (I’m a teacher) and I run 5-6 times a week. The only thing setting me back is I don’t think they have GPS capability so I still have the use the watch on runs if I want to hit a certain mileage. The calorie count could be useful when trying to make sure I fuel enough before or after runs.

  4. I got the Garmin VivoSmart for Christmas and have noticed the same thing! It’s crazy how much of a difference even a short run makes to my daily steps.

  5. I love the idea of running for steps! I got a fitbit for Christmas and definitely find that being aware of my steps helps me to move more. It’s kind of like what you guys talked about on the podcast a while back about how tracking pretty much anything will help you reach your goal without really putting forth intentional effort toward that goal. Knowing that 20 minutes a day of running would boost steps by 30% kind of makes my excuses for not running some days look weak… Thanks for the motivation as always!

  6. Hi Matt,
    Really interesting concept. I am excited to try out the 180 steps per min cadence in my own runs. I have focused on the relationship between steps and breathing patterns during runs before, and I have to agree it really does produce a meditative state. Great tip for boredom!

  7. Interesting point about running for steps! I’ve never thought about it that way. I’m not sure how many steps I run per minute, but definitely something I will play around with now. Thanks!!

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