How to Get the Most Out of Running Strides

Molly Hurford
by Molly Hurford
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How to Get the Most Out of Running Strides

Whether you’re a new runner or a seasoned veteran, adding strides can make you a faster, more efficient runner — and it doesn’t have to be painful. “Most runners, including pros, aren’t efficient enough — but strides can help,” says coach David Roche, author of the new book, “The Happy Runner.”

“Strides are the most important part of developing an adult runner. The basic principle is that it improves your neuromuscular act of running fast. Bio-mechanically, your form improves. Your max power output improves. And skeletally, you get stronger from the ground up. [When] introducing strides to someone who hasn’t done them before — after 4–6 weeks — we see a huge jump in performance, it’s amazing.”

WHAT ARE STRIDES?

Simply put, a stride is a roughly 20–35-second effort that should be done at a hard pace: Think about the pace you could only sustain for a single hard mile, around 85–90% max effort. “Go as fast as you can without straining,” says Roche.

Your heart rate should be kicking up as you do them, and after your stride is over, you should return to an easy pace. A lot of runners use strides at the beginning of a workout (or a race) just to get into gear and be ready for the actual intervals that they’ll be running — and runners also use them at the end of an easy run just to help ‘clear their legs.’

WHY DO STRIDES?

Remember the last race, when the start was a lot harder than you expected, even though the pace eventually chilled out? (This is especially common in trail races where position heading into singletrack matters.) Or maybe you remember a time you got outsprinted at the end of a half-marathon because you couldn’t pick up your pace. Or, if you’re not a competitive runner, maybe you’d just like to add some really simple harder efforts into your usual chill runs in order to pep up your metabolism by spiking your heart rate and challenging your metabolic system. Whatever the reason, just a couple minutes of hard work can have major results.

WHEN SHOULD YOU DO STRIDES?

If you’re planning to race fast, a couple of warmup strides get you ready for a hard start. But you can also incorporate them into weekly runs as part of your speedwork. “What we have athletes do is, two times a week, do 4–8 strides of around 15–30 seconds,” says Roche. He has most of his athletes do a full recovery, so if the stride is 30 seconds, run easy for 30 seconds.

You want to use the first few seconds of your stride to steadily increase your pace, versus going from a jog to the fastest sprint you’ve ever done. Don’t start a stride from a sprint. The slower ramp up is safer and teaches your body about acceleration — plus, you won’t end up fading after 7–8 seconds.

Some cross-country coaches use strides in their warmup drills, and consider the ‘easy’ segments between the efforts just as important as the strides themselves. To use a striding technique in a warmup, consider starting with this:

  • 30 seconds of high-knee running, easy
  • 20–30 second stride effort
  • 30 seconds of butt-kick running, easy
  • 20–30 second stride effort
  • 30 seconds of skipping (with arms)
  • 20–30 second stride effort

About the Author

Molly Hurford
Molly Hurford

Molly is an outdoor adventurer and professional nomad obsessed with all things running, nutrition, cycling and movement-related. When not outside, she’s writing about being outside, travel and athletic style on TheOutdoorEdit.com, or she’s interviewing world-class athletes and scientists for The Consummate Athlete Podcast. You can follow her adventures on Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat at @mollyjhurford.

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