When a new athlete starts working with me, there are a few things I can probably guarantee them in their training plans no matter what endurance event they are training for: a lot of easy running, at least one dedicated weekly quality workout, and strides. Whether you find solace on the trails with races extending over several days or thrive as a road speedster conquering races in the span of 20 minutes, incorporating of strides into your training routine is an important factor in elevating your overall speed and running efficiency and even reducing injury risk.
What are strides?
Strides are short, controlled bursts of near-maximal effort running typically done towards the end of an easy run or before a speed workout. Full recovery is given between each stride, which makes them less like a full speed workout and a little more like a drill or mini-workout. Because of this recovery allocation and the short duration of strides, we can do them pretty frequently and there is little-to-no recovery time necessary after them. Strides are typically 20-30 seconds in length, but can be longer depending on the athlete’s ability level and performance goals.
Why should I do strides? The benefits:
Improved Running Form and Economy
Strides help reinforce proper running mechanics - our bodies learn from this fast running to get more efficient at all running over time.
Improved Speed and Power
Regular strides can help us work on and increase our top-end speed.
A 2018 study in Physiological Reports, involving twenty-six trained runners, revealed that incorporating 30-second strides into a 40-day training plan led to a notable 3.2% improvement in 10K performance in a normal state and a 3.9% improvement in a glycogen-depleted state. (PMID: 29417745)
VO2 max did not have a significant change in the above study (it actually decreased, though not significantly), however, velocity at VO2 max increased by 2%, which is arguably a more important metric to work on improving than VO2 max is!
The researchers of the study attributed the enhanced performance to changes in protein expression of the energy consumption of slow-twitch muscle fibers, suggesting that the benefits of strides extend across various running distances, including marathon and ultra-marathon events.
Strides help improve the coordination between our muscles and nerves - making for an overall more efficient system.
Bonus: The benefits of hill strides:
Running uphill decreases the risk of injury as there is less impact on hills.
Uphill strides focus more on power development. This power can make you a stronger runner, particularly late in races.
Running form is typically best when we run uphill, so practicing this frequently has major benefits for form.
How do I do strides?
Whether doing hill strides or flat strides, the same principles apply:
Do strides after you have already warmed up, oftentimes, that would be in the second half of an easy run. You can also do them after your warm up prior to your speed workout to prime things before the workout begins.
If you are doing hill strides, use a moderate grade hill, anywhere from 6-8% in grade. If doing flat strides, find a long, straight section that you can run with no interruptions.
Strides are typically 20-30 seconds in length and done 4-8 times. They can be even done up to 10 times in some cases!
Ease into and out of the effort - take the first 5-7 seconds to gradually build pace, don’t start out as fast as possible!
Try to hit your top speed WITHOUT straining. So, this is NOT an all out sprint. Focus on controlled speed, emphasizing a smooth and powerful running motion. Drive your knees up and run tall!
Then use the last 5-7 seconds to gradually slow down.
Do a full recovery, which is usually around 1-2 minutes long. This is usually an easy effort run, but can also be a walk. For hill strides, jog back down the hill and around until you feel ready to start the next stride.
When do I do strides in a training block?
If you have a consistent base of running, you can start adding in strides at any point in a training block.
If you are new to strides, start with hill strides first - this will help ease into the practice of running fast and has less impact than flat running does.
Strides can be done 2-3x per week for most athletes in most phases of a training block.
When NOT to do strides:
If you are injured. Strides can worsen any existing injuries, so it’s better to wait until you are healed to incorporate them.
Right after a race, while you are recovering.
If it is cold outside and your legs don’t feel warm. Running fast has the potential for injury, and that is increased when your muscles aren’t properly warmed up. Don’t risk straining anything when it’s cold out!
In the pursuit of becoming a well-rounded and resilient endurance runner, strides are a valuable tool. Whether you're tackling challenging trails or aiming for a personal best in your next road race, strides can elevate your performance and can also make training exciting!