Humans move in an incredibly similar fashion regarding cadence or tempo. It may be hard to believe, but most of us all run about 180 steps per minute. Anyone who is healthy normally walks at a basic pace of about 120 steps per minute. Even during our daily activity has been shown to have a “pace” of 120 steps or moves per minute. (The exception is walking or running on a treadmill, which poses a particular stress due to its unnatural circumstance—the brain senses the body movement but the body remains in one place. In this case there’s a wider variation in tempo.)
These numbers—180 and 120—are approximate and are typical. Virtually all runners have a range of tempo between about 150 and 190 steps a minute whether jogging, running a marathon, or sprinting. This allows one’s brain some leeway to adjust one’s pace and body mechanics as necessary. Muscle imbalance, fatigue, caffeine, time of day, the weather and other factors can affect one’s running efficiency for a given workout, and the brain will sense these factors and make appropriate changes such as slightly slowing our tempo, or speeding it up.
It’s more than the brain, the rest of the head is important too, not only influencing tempo but gait. The eyes (a part of the brain) play a role, as does the inner ear, which contains a tiny “otolith” on each side. These contribute to collecting information about body movement and balance. In addition, various muscles around the neck and those of the jaw joint (which connect directly to the brain as opposed to all other muscles which first connect to the spinal cord) continually send messages to the brain about body movement, and help the eyes and ears do their work. All this feedback, combined with the sensory input coming from the feet, spine, pelvis and elsewhere, helps the brain better adapt to changes during a run. Most of these adjustments are subtle and barely noticeable. The result is the most efficient run possible. In order to do this, the brain may decide 176 is a good tempo, at least for the first 20 or so minutes, then it may change to 182, and so on. –by Dr. Phil Maffetone