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Everything You Need to Know About How to Run Strides

Here's the lowdown on running’s best (unkept) secret training tool.

Photo: Erin Olsen

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Strides are short bouts of faster running with recovery in between. Much like the word “tempo,” the exact definition depends on who you talk to, but most coaches agree that strides are 50 to 150 meters (or 15 to 30 seconds) of running at “fast” at speeds ranging from 5k to mile race pace.

Strides offer many benefits to any runner, no matter her experience level or whether she’s training for fitness or to win an ultramarathon.

Running coach Vivian Vassall experienced this firsthand while training for her fastest half marathon. “My coach had me run 100-meter strides with 100-meter recovery jogs after my weekly 3- to 5-mile easy run. I started with four strides, then added one per week until I reached eight. When race day came, when I reached the last mile, I realized I just had to do eight strides with recovery periods. I was able to finish fast and photogenically,” she says.

As a coach, she asks her athletes to “use ‘exaggerated good form’ during strides. Strides are good practice for making good form a habit,” she says.

Strides promote running economy (basically how efficiently you run), with a focus on turnover and form. They prepare us for faster speeds, within a given day as well as during specific micro- and macro-training cycles. Plus, they make our legs feel good, or often at least better than when we started them. Best yet, strides are versatile. They can be included in a warm-up or cool-down, tacked onto an easy run, or run as part of (or all) of a workout.

“I love strides. Strides serve multiple purposes depending on when and how strides are used during a training cycle,” says Sam Lewis, elite runner and volunteer assistant cross-country/track coach at University of Idaho. “When I am getting back into shape after taking some time off, strides serve as an introduction to faster paces while focusing on running with good form. Strides help to improve speed and efficiency without taxing the body’s system too much. We then use strides before workouts and races to help ‘jump-start’ the body’s system to be prepared to run faster paces during the workout.”

Sam Lewis, elite runner
Sam Lewis, elite runner and assistant cross-country/track coach at University of Idaho.
Photo: Erin Olsen

If running consistent minutes and miles is the bread, strides are the butter—the spreadable, additive stuff that makes an ingredient like warm bread part of a meal or a snack. All runners stand to gain something from strides. Even if you like your toast dry, it’s worth giving any flavor of strides a try. Here’s how.

How to Run Strides

Warm up with at least 5 to 10 minutes of easy running. Find a flat, safe 50- to 150-meter stretch (or the distance you can cover in 20 to 30 seconds) of runnable ground. To start, take 10 to 15 seconds to accelerate up to 70 to 90 percent of your top-end speed and hold that for at least 10 seconds. Decelerate, or ease the pace down. Slow to a jog, walk, or stand. Take enough time to let your heart rate and/or breath recover, then repeat the stride one to five more times. Focus on staying relaxed and smooth, even while running swiftly with quick, light steps.

In an ideal world, runners would include strides a few times weekly, but even one session can make a difference.

To work on hitting a specific pace (say your goal 5K race pace) or distance, do the strides on a track, using the 100-meter straightaway and a watch to gauge your pace. For example, if you want to practice running a 25-minute 5K, cover the 100 meters in 30 seconds. For a 29:30 5K, hit it in 35.5 seconds. For a 20-minute 5K, it’s 24 seconds.

Football fields are also great for strides and allow practicing running specific distances (ICYMI, it’s 10 yards, or just over 9 meters, from white line to white line).

If you’re super attached to your GPS, measure out one .06 to .09 mile, then practice strides along that stretch. Or set a timer for 20-30 seconds to stride out. Time spent striding is better spent focused on form and confidence than craning your next to see your watch.

Or go by feel to tune into your own rhythm! “I wouldn’t get too hung up on an exact number, just start strong, end stronger,” says Vassall.

Remember: No straining or tensing up is needed. While strides count as speedwork, they’re not a sprint, aka not full-out or top speed. So if your booty locks up or you’re truly gasping for air, back off.

RELATED: 4 Ways to Improve Your Running Form Without Thinking About It

When and How to Incorporate Strides Into Your Training

As described above, strides are run like a crescendo and decrescendo, or what coach Ashley Nordell calls a build-up. “I have some runners do them as part of their warm-ups before speed, and all runners do some form of them usually at the end of a run. Sometimes we also do uphill strides. Going along with this, I have started having my runners do progressive warm-ups before workouts. So start slow, and over the course of 1.5 to 2 miles, build up to a harder effort so they are not going right from slow running into quick turnover of a workout,” Nordell says.

As with toast toppings, we have lots of options with strides. Here are six ways to incorporate them into your training.

As a workout

If you’re new to running, crunched for time, or coming back from time off, strides themselves serve as a quality session. Pro runner and author Alysia Montaño recommends strides as a stand-alone workout in her book Feel Good Fitness. After a thorough warm-up (including dynamic drills), run 4 to 7 strides, then cool down, stretch, and call it a day.

RELATED: Feeling Stir-Crazy? Try this 7-Day Challenge with Alysia Montaño

For warming up

Strides prime our bodies for faster running. That’s why they’re an oft-included ingredient in a thoughtful warm-up for workouts and races. After easy running (and ideally dynamic stretches and drills), do two to four or more strides right before a harder effort. When you watch races, you’ll see runners dashing off the line before the starting gun goes off; those are pre-race strides.

Pre-race day ritual

The day before athletes’ races, many coaches prescribe an easy shakeout run of usually 20 to 25 minutes with at least a few strides. This reminds the body (and mind) it knows how to run faster, makes the legs feel decent, chases away last-minute taper crazies, and prepares runners for the next day’s work.

On not-so-fresh legs

To finish off a distance run or workout with a flourish, tack on two to four strides at the end. On an aerobic-focused day, strides allow your legs to move faster, engaging fast-twitch muscle fibers and maintaining speed. At the end of a longer or more intense workout, strides teach (or remind) your body how to move quickly and efficiently even when you’re tired, which proves very helpful in races.

Focusing on form

Every runner has her own natural movement patterns. To get a feel for your own, try running barefoot strides on a grass or turf infield. What do you notice? Do your feet slap the ground in front of your body? Can you push, not pull, with your feet, as Jonathan Beverly recommends in his book, Your Best Stride? Can you practice coach Vassall’s ‘exaggerated good form’? This barefoot practice can also help strengthen your feet and lower legs.

Increase the slope

If you’re new to speed or looking for variation in your training, run strides on a slight incline, with jog or walk down recovery. The slope adds new stimulus and allows the benefits of speedwork with less pounding.

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