What the Heck Are Strides?

imageIt took me years of consistent training before I made a big breakthrough with running and broke into the sub-elite ranks of the sport. Sure, I ran a lot of miles, I did long runs and tempos and intervals, but I chalk a lot of my success up to something you might not suspect. My favorite secret to getting faster? Strides!

If you’ve perused our training logs you’ve seen that many of us incorporate strides. Strides, sometimes called striders, are a common component of high school and college training programs and they should be in your training program too. But what exactly are strides?

While there certainly are a few of us who have no idea, many of us have at least a passing knowledge of what strides are. But even if you have included them in your training for years, do you actually know what purpose they serve in your training? Do you know when it’s ideal to incorporate them into a run? Are you doing them correctly? Let’s discuss!

What are Strides?

Let’s start with the most basic of basics here. Strides are a short, usually 15-30 second, segments of faster running. They are faster than a slight pick-up in pace, but they are not true sprints. You should always feel like you have another gear or two left and the acceleration and deceleration phases should be gentle. For those of you who like more precise pace-designations, I’d suggest maxing out at mile race pace, but even 3k-5k race pace is enough to see a benefit.

Why Do Strides?

In Training

As with any form of training, you should always understand the purpose. Strides help you become more comfortable and efficient at quicker paces, especially if you focus on form cues. Strides teach your brain to make your legs move, which you might hear others refer to as turn-over. Teaching your legs to move at a very quick tempo will make faster paces feel easier and actually be easier for you as your body adapts and becomes more efficient at those speeds.

As Part of a Warm-up

Strides can also increase the blood flow to your legs and open up your range of motion, so that when you do begin a race or a hard workout, the intense pace won’t be quite the shock to the system it would otherwise be.

When Should I Do Strides?

In Training

I recommend starting with a set of 3-4 strides at the end of an easy run, starting on the short end (15-20 seconds) and jogging easily for about a minute and a half to two minutes (or more if needed) in between each one. The first one of the set might feel awkward, but they should feel better as you go. For getting started, I’d recommend not worrying about pace and focusing on putting in faster effort, moving your feet quickly, focusing on good form, and feeling strong.

As Part of a Warm-up

If you want to incorporate strides as part of a warm-up, do them after easy running of at least 10 minutes. Then do the same as above.

imageWhere Should I Do Strides?

Look for flat, smooth surfaces with few turns, especially if you’re a strides novice. Generally you’ll want to use a flat road or track that’s relatively straight and free of obstacles, but advanced runners might consider performing uphill strides. Downhill strides can be useful when training for a downhill race to acclimate the body to pounding.

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What’s great about strides is that because they’re so short, there’s very little stress on your body and you can include them often. When I set my 5k PR, I ran a set of strides almost daily, but you’ll probably see a benefit with even one set per week.

Do you do strides? What’s your routine? 

I'm a 20-year veteran of competitive running, USATF certified coach, mom of a toddler -- and still trying to set PRs. I write about training from 5k to marathon, motherhood and competitive running, and the elite side of the sport. The 5k is my favorite race (16:56 PR) but I've got a score to settle with the marathon.

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3 comments

  1. Hooray for strides! Love them. I always do them as part of my pre-race or pre-workout warmup, definitely do them on the day before a race as part of my easy run, and also will frequently do them 1-2x/wk during an easy run. I usually do 4-6 bouts. They are also great when you’re coming back from an injury and want to test if you can start to handle speed work or are transitioning back into speed work.

  2. Great post. 🙂 I always forget about adding strides, and I like the idea that it’s as much brain training as it is for your legs.

  3. I started with a new running coach today. Normally Wednesday is the group training but I’ll wait a few weeks until we see how I do….today, though strides are included after the warm-up. I remembered your post so checked it out for refresher. Thanks!