You’ve probably heard other runners or coaches talking about running strides as a training exercise, but surprisingly striding is a largely overlooked and at times misunderstood element of many runner’s training schedules.
In addition, most people like to run those extra few miles or kilometres in training as they focus on a weekly distance target.
However, cutting some training runs short and dedicating only 5-15 minutes to running strides at the end of a run can do wonders for your running!
So, what are strides?
Despite the name, strides are nothing to do with intentionally over-extending your leg (i.e. trying to force your stride length to be longer).
Strides are essentially short accelerations – a short burst of speed where you gradually accelerate as you go.
A stride is a running effort at speed over short distances of between 50m and 100m.
It is not a full out sprint –more a gradual increase in speed with a focus on maintaining good running form.
Therefore, strides should not be run at maximum effort.
A perceived RPE of 7/8 or an effort of between 80-90% of your maximum speed is what you should be aiming for.
Why run strides? The Benefits of Running Strides
There are many benefits from running strides. Let’s look at the most significant ones.
First, they reinforce good form and technique and they remind your body of how it should feel when working anaerobically.
By running strides at the end of your runs, your body will develop the ability to switch from the slow-twitch fibres of aerobic running to the fast-twitch fibres of anaerobic running.
In Running Formula, The famous running coach, Jack Daniels, suggests that fast running improves efficiency because it trains the body to recruit an effective combination of muscle fibres.
Secondly, strides are also a great way to improve your biomechanics and efficiency when running aerobically. By training your body to run at quicker paces, you’ll increase your ability to feel comfortable and in control while running at all of your training paces.
For those relatively new to running and who have yet to incorporate some high-intensity training runs into their schedules, strides offer a nice bridge.
They are a safe way of introducing a little speedwork into your training routine with the added advantage of not putting the same stress on your body.
Thus, they don´t require the same recovery time that you would need post high-intensity training sessions.
Thirdly, another benefit of running strides post-training run is that it provides a good dynamic stretch. This aids recovery, keeps your legs supple and reduces the risks of burnout.
On the opposite side of the coin, the regular running of strides before high-intensity training sessions and races will ensure you have warmed up effectively and prepared your body for the quick start, lowering the risk of picking up an injury.
Finally, for those looking to be at the business end of races, strides can make a huge difference in your kick – or change of pace. Regular running of strides at the end of runs teaches your body to cope with a sudden change of pace.
Mo Farah at the end of a 10,000 in the London Olympics was running consistent laps of 64 second and then produced a final 400m in 52.2 seconds to win the gold. His body was able and ready for this sudden change of pace and years of running strides was one reason for this astonishing kick.
When Should You Run Strides?
There are largely four times that runners will benefit from running strides:
- Post short training run
- Post long run
- Pre high-intensity training session
After a short training run, doing 4-6 strides over 50-100 metres regularly will help get your body used to this change from aerobic to anaerobic running. It should feel comfortable, focus on good running form and stay relaxed.
As you get more comfortable with the strides, you could introduce them after your long run as this really forces your body to try and maintain correct running form while fatigued.
As mentioned before, running strides after a long run can really improve your ability to produce a sudden change of pace that comes in useful while competing in all race distances, but particularly in 5k and 10k races.
However, as your body will be in a fatigued state, start off easy and progressively work into the strides. The aim is to maintain good running form and you’ll also give the body a good dynamic stretch which kick starts the recovery.
Many of the top distance running coaches use these types of strides to help prepare their athletes transition from aerobic running to the start of a block of high intensity training sessions.
The strides pre-high intensity training session and race should get progressively quicker as you want to reach a point where you’re completely warmed up and able to cope with the fast pace in the opening repetition of a session or the frantic start of a race.
These strides should be specific to the training session you are about to undertake. For example, if you are scheduled? to run a hills session, it would be appropriate to run some of the strides on an incline to better prepare the body to the demands of the session.
Running of strides before a race are normally the final part of the warm-up. As in the case of the high intensity training session, they should be specific to the nature of the terrain or course you are about to compete on. For instance, if you are running in a track race, then ideally you should be running those final strides on track surface.
Where to run strides?
When starting out, the best place to run strides is on a flat surface where you can run at speed over the recommended distance.
Some people find it useful to use a football pitch if you have just finished your run on the grass. You can use the length of the pitch for the stride and then jogging the width for the recovery.
As your fitness improves you may wish to run some Union Jacks on the pitch as well. As the name suggests, you stride the diagonals from one corner to another, and then use the widths as a recovery.
Another option which is becoming more popular is running strides on a slight hill. This will provide added stimulus and help develop your strength in addition to your speed. Moreover, you will be able to improve their knee lift that will enhance their running biomechanics.
Running Strides – Other considerations
Speed has been defined as the rate of stride multiplied by the length of stride. This leads to one of the important goals of running strides: to increase your stride length while maintaining a quick turnover.
Considering both components separately and adapting some of your training, you´ll be able to enhance our maximum sprinting speed.
One way of improving your rate of stride is to run downhill on a small slope. The prominent Russian coach, Nikolay Osolin measured the stride frequency of a group of athletes and found that regular downhill running led to an improvement of 17% in stride frequency. Be careful and find a hill that is not too steep (2-3% downward slope) and run 4-6 repetitions.
Strength training could be incorporated into your training plan to improve your length of stride. This will enable you to cover more distance for each stride. Frank Horwill found that strength training every other day over a 12-week period increased the stride length of his athletes by 5cm on average.
Barefoot running on grass is becoming increasingly popular and some of the top running coaches are introducing it into the training plans of their athletes. The idea is that the athlete can strengthen the tendons and ligaments around the foot and increase calf strength and elasticity.
Bear in mind, we only recommend trying this once you have been running strides regularly and are familiar with barefoot running. Remember to ease yourself into it and try repeating 4 strides with a walk back for recovery.
Strides Workout – Running Strides Drills
Try and apply the following tips to ensure you get the most out of your workout.
Beginner Strides Drill
- Find a straight of between 50 and 100m where you’re not likely to face any obstacles in the form of other runners or traffic!
- Start slowly and gradually increase your pace.
- Focus on feeling relaxed and in control.
- Don´t aim to run as fast as possible!
- A slight forward lean of the upper body will help you feel relaxed.
- Jog or walk back to the start after every stride.
- Aim to repeat 4 to 6 efforts and as your fitness improves, add 2 more.
Advanced Strides Drill
Follow the advice above around feeling relaxed and maintaining good running form and then do the following:
- Run 2-3 strides on a flat straight path.
- Then find a hill where you can run 2 strides uphill, following by 2 strides downhill.
- Repeat this 2 times per week after you runs.
Final thoughts on Running Strides
Striding at the end of a training runs can benefit runners of all abilities and experience.
Try incorporating them into your weekly training schedule and as you progress you can run them on hills, downhill, or even barefoot on grass.
If practised consistently you will make great strides in improving your personal bests over most race distances.