Want to start becoming a better runner as soon as possible? You might not realize it, but strides are a simple, yet essential component of running training from which every runner can benefit. I’ll be honest, I questioned their necessity, but this year I finally realized how crucial they can be to making progress as a runner. But what exactly are they?
Strides are bouts of speed run in a fast and controlled manner for a short distance or amount of time. During a stride you build to 85 – 95% of your max effort before letting off again before the finish. You then walk back to where you started and repeat. They are best implemented at the end of an easy run or during a warm-up before a race.
It might seem hard to believe that something as simple as strides can benefit runners ranging from true beginners to elite competitors alike, but strides might just be the missing piece of your training that will boost your running up to a new level!
What are running strides?
As a runner, you’ve probably come across the concept of strides. But many runners are unsure of what they are (or confuse them with something else) and even more don’t implement them into their training.
Strides are short bouts of fast running, lasting around 15 – 30 seconds apiece, where a runner also focuses on having good form by staying relaxed. Sometimes called “striders,” “pick-ups” or “accelerations,” but they are not sprints. The general goal is to get to a speed that you could hold for a several minutes (mile race pace is about right) while keeping your body smooth and comfortable. Strides are an essential component of training and are something that you need to do if you want to get faster.
Strides have the power to change your running form for the better by increasing your cadence, teaching you not to over-stride, and helping you relax at higher speeds. It trains your legs and aerobic system to run quickly, even when tired or at the end of a hard race.
Are strides the same as sprints?
You may hear people mistakenly use the terms “strides” and “sprints” interchangeably, but they are different.
Whereas a sprint is your all-out, maximum effort run at the top speed you can go, a stride is best completed at around 85-95% of your max effort. Additionally, a sprint is as fast as you can go from start to finish, but in a stride, you will build to your speed, maintain it for 15-20 seconds and then begin to back off before coming to a complete stop.
Strides should also be a time to hone in on running with good form. In a sprint, your only goal is to go as fast as you possibly can.
Strides are also different than “surges” or “fartleks” which are completed mid-run instead of before or after on their own.
Who should do running strides?
There are a myriad ways to implement strides into your running training, depending on your fitness level, experience, and running goals, but one thing is certain: strides are for absolutely every runner! They are especially necessary for middle-to-longer distance runners who don’t employ as much sprint training and spend a lot of time running easy, aerobic miles.
How do strides benefit runners?
Strides are a quick and easy way engage your fast-twitch muscle fibers without having to do a full speedwork running session. They help you practice better form by increasing your foot turnover and your running cadence. According to Greg McMillan, exercise physiologist and experienced running coach, strides are a type of neuromuscular training which will help improve your overall speed and efficiency as a runner.
The main ways that running strides can benefit you as a runner are:
- Helping your body have better running economy: reducing the amount of energy it takes for your body to run fast
- Improving cardiac stroke output: increasing the amount of blood pumped by the heart per beat
- Improving muscle strength: your body will be better at its output of power
- Enhancing the aerobic system: your body will become better at processing oxygen in turn making you a more efficient runner (even at longer distances)
This all adds up to becoming a faster runner!
Strides are one way that even beginner runners can still incorporate speedwork into their training. Though increasing mileage should not occur at the same time as introducing quality/speedwork due to the injury this combination can cause, strides are short enough that even beginner runners (or runners returning to the sport after time off) can do them with little risk. Strides are the perfect way to become acclimated to speed work!
How do you run a stride?
When you are ready to run your stride, you’ll want to find a flat space to perform your strides. The surface type does not matter here, because dirt or paved trails, grass, and tracks are all appropriate places for strides, as long as the area you plan to run across is flat. Make sure that you have about 100 meters of a straightaway (equivalent to one side of a track) to perform your strides before you begin.
- Begin and accelerate: From a standing position (sometimes, coaches or training plans may have you begin from an easy run or jog), start running and take 5-8 seconds to accelerate until you get to about 85-95% of your top speed. No need to look at your GPS watch for pacing guidance here. Your watch won’t have time to fully catch up to your pace before the stride is over, so you should run completely by feel.
- Get to 85-95% max effort and maintain. Run for 15-20 seconds at this perceived 85-95% effort level. Make sure your body is relaxed, your feet are stepping quickly and lightly, and that you feel smooth and comfortable. Do not strain or struggle here – it should feel fairly effortless and fun. If you find that you are tensing, straining, or gasping for air during this segment, you are probably going too fast. Back off to a pace where your body can stay comfortable and in control.
- Decelerate, then stop. Spend 5-8 seconds decelerating, until you come to a complete stop.
- Slowly walk back to where you started. There should be a period of about 1-2 minutes to get back to where you started. By the time you reach your starting point, you should feel almost completely recovered. It’s important not to shorten the amount of recovery time between the end of one stride and the beginning of the next one. There isn’t any benefit to shortening your recovery and rushing to begin the next stride, so do it as prescribed.
Congratulations – you just completed one stride! Rinse and repeat as many times as indicated in your training plan for this session.
For a clear demonstration on how to do strides, watch the video below!
When should I do strides?
An ideal way to incorporate strides is at the end of an easy or base run. Runners can also do a few strides as part of their warm-up before a race. Completing strides before a race can help runners prepare their mind and body for the hard effort needed for racing.
What’s important to remember is that they are separate from the rest of your run as opposed to being completed mid-run like a fartlek would be.
How many strides should I do at a time?
If you’re new to strides, a good place to start is by performing no more than 3-4 strides per session. After a few weeks of this, you can increase the amount of strides performed to 6 per session. Generally, most runners can do anywhere between 4-10 strides in each session, depending on their experience level. Less experienced runners should stick to the lower end of that range than, say, a runner who is experienced with mileage and incorporating speed work.
As quick bursts of speed, any more strides than about 12 start to get into speed workout territory, which would completely negate the gentle, yet effective, purpose of strides.
How often should I do strides? Can I do them every day?
A good way to start doing strides if you’ve never done them before is to slowly incorporate them 1 or 2 times a week, following your easy runs. Every runner looking to progress in their running should be doing them at least once per week.
Depending on experience level and on how many easy runs are on their training schedule, runners can safely incorporate stride sessions 2-4 times per week, all year long. You should NOT do them every day or add them after every run, however, because they can take away from your aerobic development if incorporated too often. (Some days you JUST need those longer, easy runs to increase your aerobic endurance.)
Ways Strides Can Be Used in Training
There are many different ways that strides can be incorporated into someone’s training plan.
How strides are utilized really depends upon the runner’s experience level, the phase of training they are in, their goals, and their coach’s training style or philosophy. Here are some examples of the many ways strides can be prescribed in a training plan:
- At the end of regular easy runs or an easy medium-long run: These provide the general benefits as listed above.
- As part of the warm-up to a speedwork session or race: Prepares your body for the intensity and speed to come.
- At the end of easy long runs: Can help you practice keeping good form and high cadence at the end of a race, when your legs will be ti red.
- As a stand-alone workout: When you’re crunched for time and want to get in as much bang for your buck as possible, strides can be completed by themselves following a proper warm-up.
You can also do strides on hills!
Hill strides can be a completely different beast from strides on a flat surface, and can be incredibly valuable. This type of stride emphasizes the musculoskeletal system, whereas flat strides emphasize the neuromuscular and biomechanical systems, so it’s great to incorporate both types into your training. Running on hills can also be kinder on the joints so can be a great substitute for flat strides for anyone who may need the lower impact. Just be sure you’re not on too steep of a hill which can grossly change your stride and form; keeping it to a grade of 4 – 7% is ideal (this is a hill that looks gradual).
There you have it: everything you need to know about strides and why they are so important to your running. With everything we’ve covered, you are ready to head out and start regularly incorporating strides into your training plan.