Article last updated on December 16, 2020
An often overlooked aspect of training among runners is the importance of running strides. It seems everyone is aware of how strides can help, yet so many ignore them in their routines.
Running strides can help you improve as a runner in several different ways. While overlooking them is easy, it is a big mistake for everyone who wants to become stronger and faster. If you are unsure about how to incorporate them into your training, read on to learn all about strides.
Strides in Running Explained
Strides are among the simplest elements of running training. Sometimes referred to as striders or accelerations, running a stride merely means accelerating your pace up for about ten seconds before decelerating back down to an easy jog. It’s that easy.
The exact specifications of a correctly executed stride will vary depending on who you ask. But the gist of it will be consistent: A stride is a short burst of pace. The aim is to run fast but in a relaxed manner. And the whole thing should be over in between 15 to 30 seconds. Afterwards, make sure that you recover fully before attempting another one.
The Benefits of Running Strides
Incorporating strides as a staple of your running training will yield many benefits. The most obvious and specific element is that the fast pace of a stride will help you become a faster runner. As long-distance runners, we tend to focus on endurance and neglect faster paces in our training.
Strides are the easiest way to improve on the one-sided endurance focus of your training. The neuromuscular stimuli of running at comparatively quick speeds will give your body a different challenge, and help you become a more rounded runner.
Become a More Efficient Runner
Furthermore, running strides help you run more efficiently and improve your running economy. The exact science behind running economy is yet be understood fully, but legendary running coach Jack Daniels has a theory. In his book Running Formula, he suggests that fast running improves efficiency because it trains the body to recruit an effective combination of muscle fibres.
Pfitzinger and Douglas build on this in their book Advanced Marathoning, and postulate:
Strides may train your muscles to eliminate unnecessary movements and maintain control at fast speeds. These adaptions may translate to improved economy.
I can attest to this from my personal experiences as well. After adding strides to my regular training regimen, I noticed a significant improvement in my running form. I started to feel more comfortable and controlled, regardless of which pace I was running. And, notably, it helped me reduce “slouching”, and I could instead maintain a more upright posture at all speeds.
A less talked about aspect of strides is that they aid and speed up your recovery. I first encountered this theory from Norwegian former elite runner Sindre Buraas, speaking on the Breaking Marathon Limits podcast.
Buraas, a 13:11 5000 meter runner, talked about how he viewed strides as an essential part of his training. He encourages runners to incorporate them into every single easy and recovery run, as he believes they help speed up your recovery.
The theory is that you can “flush” your muscles from the residual byproducts of hard training with short bursts of faster running. In turn, this will improve your recovery rate. Although scientific research on the matter is in short supply, many runners will report anecdotal experiences to back up this theory.
How to Run Strides
Apply the following pointers to ensure that you are maximising the effects of your strides:
- Run your strides on a flat stretch of road or a track
- Start from a jogging pace, and accelerate in a controlled fashion
- Focus on running in a controlled manner rather than as fast as possible
- Your back should be close to straight with only a small forward lean, your arm swing relaxed, and your knee drive should be high
- If your arms and hands tense up, you are running too fast
- Instead of looking at your watch to determine when to stop, count to 15 on the inside
- Recover fully from each stride before starting another one
When You Should Run Strides
Strides should be a part of your aerobic and recovery runs. As you begin incorporating strides, do them at least once per week. And as you progress and get used to the new type of load, aim to do them two or three times per week.
For newer runners just getting started with strides, I would recommend limiting the number to four per run. After the first month, you can increase to five or six, before settling on between six and eight per run.
Some runners and coaches are adamant that you should only do strides after finishing your run. I have yet to see a compelling argument why. The important thing is that you wait until you are warm and loose before you do them. Beyond this, you can do your strides in the middle or towards the end of your run.
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