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Why YOU Should Be Doing Strides (& How To Do Them Correctly!)

What are "strides"? Maybe you've heard them called "striders" or "stride-outs" (but they're called strides, I will die on this hill), and you've almost certainly seen them show up in your training plans. Maybe you usually do them! Maybe... they're the first thing you skip when you're crunched for time or just plain ready to move on with your day. After all, they're so short. Just 15, maybe 20 seconds each. How important could they actually be?

Well, very important, actually!

Strides are short accelerations and decelerations done with full rest (or sometimes a walk return-to-start, especially if it's below freezing) in between each rep after an easy effort run, or as part of a pre-race warm-up. They're often mistaken for sprints or a speed workout in the traditional sense, but they are neither. Strides are more akin to a drill, a practice and refinement of SKILL. And sure, if you did 50 of them, they'd become a "workout" in that you would feel pretty fatigued after doing so many, but the point of strides is to work on specific skills WITHOUT accumulating significant fatigue, hence the rest in between each rep, the short duration of each stride, and the small number you do (a typical session of strides might be 6x15 seconds, or 4x 20 seconds, or perhaps up to 8x20 seconds... but that's still less than 2 total minutes of work).

They're often mistaken for sprints or a speed workout in the traditional sense, but they are neither.

Now, some coaches may assign strides that are up to 30 seconds per rep; I think this is too long. 30 seconds is more akin to a surge or a pickup, and it's a long enough effort that fatigue will start to set in, which is not what we want when doing strides. This is why I limit strides to 15 or 20 seconds (depending on the athlete, their experience, familiarity with strides, etc) and manipulate the reps, not the duration.

Strides can also be good "introductory" speedwork as well and are often the first type of "structured speed" a runner new to speedwork will encounter. But wait, you ask, I thought you just said that strides aren't speedwork? They aren't, not technically, but they ARE "speedwork-adjacent" and still more demanding than an easy effort run! Before we throw a runner who's NEVER done structured speed workouts into the deep end with something like 6x400 @ 5k pace, let's introduce them to the concept of structured reps of work and rest, short bouts of faster running to build confidence, AND a drill that will ultimately lay the groundwork (economically, neuromuscularly, biomechanically, etc) for when they are ready for more formal workouts. Strides are also the first step into adding speedwork back into your training after taking time off for something like an injury, pregnancy, etc. Strides can be done on a treadmill, although outside is preferable.

Sprints have no pace or power targets; they're done entirely based on effort.

I said strides are NOT sprints, but acceleration drillls, and this is where many runners are failing on the execution of strides; one of the most common mistakes when doing strides is to start at an all-out effort from the very first step like an Olympic 100m sprinter!

Let's consider how to execute a single 15-second stride. First, find a flat, uninterrupted section of road, sidewalk, track, etc.

1) Start by slowly accelerating for 5 seconds until you reach an effort around ~95% of your maximum effort (fast, yes, but not pushing, straining, or "all-out" sprinting)

2) Maintain this fast effort while staying relatively relaxed for about 5 seconds; keep your chest and head up and your legs turning over fast (I coach my runners to run as if "you're on the cover of Runner's World" with a slightly exaggerated good form). A 20-second stride would have 10 seconds of "middle" here.

3) Slowly decelerate for 5 seconds

4) Rest/recover as directed

Et voila! A stride. NOT a sprint.

Sprints have no pace or power targets; they're done entirely based on effort.

Typically, strides are introduced to a runner's training with 3-4x15 seconds of work with 60-90 seconds of full rest in between each stride. Strides are most commonly done after an easy effort run 1-2 times per week. After several weeks, I typically increase them to 4x20 seconds. Depending on the athlete, it may be just a few weeks, or several months, before the next "bump up" to 5-6x15 sec or x20 sec strides. High-volume athletes may go up to 8x strides in some cases. If the athlete is struggling to recover between each stride even with full rest and form is starting to fall apart on the final rep or two, we don't increase reps or duration!

What do strides DO? Why are they included in the training of almost every runner from the recreational to the elite?

1. Biomechanical Efficiency: Strides help improve running form, economy, and biomechanics. By running at faster speeds for short bursts, you engage different muscle fibers, enhancing overall running mechanics. This can lead to better efficiency and reduced risk of injury.

2. Neuromuscular Adaptations: Strides encourage the development of neuromuscular adaptations. They train your body to recruit fast-twitch muscle fibers more effectively, which can contribute to increased speed and power during races.

3. Speed Development: Incorporating strides allows runners to work on speed without all the fatigue that a higher volume speed workout would bring (along with that commensurate recovery - you can't do speed workouts every day, but you can include strides multiple times a week!) These short bursts of speed help in developing leg turnover and better running mechanics, which can translate to improved overall pace during shorter races and longer distances.

4. Mental Preparation: Strides can also serve as a mental, not just physical, change from the larger volumes of easy effort, low-intensity running that make up the majority of our weeks. It introduces variety into the training routine, preventing monotony and keeping you mentally engaged and motivated (plus, they're fun!!)

5. Warm-Up for Workouts or Races: Strides can be used as part of the warm-up routine before a workout or race (especially shorter races like a 5k or 10k) to gradually prepare the body for more intense efforts.

So yes, you should be doing strides. Yes, they are important! The next time you're tempted to skip your strides because you're crunched for time, shave a few minutes from your run instead so you have time to fit them in!


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