Plenty of runners simply run their miles at the same pace, on the same route, day after day. But what if adding just a couple of minutes of effort to most of your runs could make a huge difference to your running strength and overall speed?
Just 4–6 efforts at 30-seconds each — in the form of short, hard efforts like strides and sprinting uphill — can improve your running — and here’s why you need those flat, fast efforts as well as the hard, hilly ones.
Hills are a great version of ‘beginner speedwork,’ and no matter how advanced you become as a runner, there will always be a need to practice on uphill terrain. It forces different muscles to fire in your legs, pushes you to become more efficient, and it almost functions as a strength workout. It doesn’t need to be a 30-minute effort to count as a good workout. Anywhere from 4–8 efforts at 20–30 seconds each on an uphill provides plenty of stimuli, without breaking down your body and requiring a rest day.
“Short bursts of controlled, fast running are essential parts of running training for the biomechanical, musculoskeletal and neuromuscular adaptations from high-output, low-fatigue efforts,” explains running coach David Roche. “Hill strides are a good introduction because most athletes will optimize power output with lower overall impact forces, which optimizes the musculoskeletal adaptations — it’s almost like plyometrics!”
Workout options: You can add these hill efforts either by performing them on a short hill mid-way through your run, running back down the hill as recovery or by digging into the efforts on a longer climb, taking 2 minutes of easy running or power-hiking between the short bursts of speed.
You might prefer the steep pitch of an uphill to make you do hard work whether you want to or not, but the ability to pick up the pace on a flat is important, too. “Flat strides are primarily neuromuscular and biomechanical, helping the brain and body coordinate the upper-end speed needed to make mid-level speed more sustainable,” says Roche.
Workout options: Strides are best done on a flat, straight road in 20–30 second bursts with around 2 minutes of recovery between them. The goal isn’t to sprint at a 10-out-of-10 pace; it’s to accelerate smoothly and to get used to that fast leg turnover. You’ll likely notice your form improves as a result: As you accelerate, your posture straightens, your foot speed increases, your eyes focus straight ahead, and you’ll look more like a sprinter you see at a racetrack. This is the primary benefit of strides. They also warm you up and prep you for more structured interval training, while getting you ready for sudden in-race accelerations.
HILLS AND STRIDES COMBO
Obviously, the clear winner in the hills versus strides debate is ‘both.’ For his SWAP (Some Work, All Play) athletes, Roche is careful to include hills and strides in most runners’ programs. “Our athletes usually start with hill strides early in a training cycle before doing a short block of a flatter focus, then going back to hills after the neuromuscular adaptations are maxed out,” he explains.
If you’re just starting out in running, sprinkle those short hill efforts into your training, then mix it up by doing a week of strides, then go back to the hills. Your form and fitness will improve, and the best part is the efforts are short and casual (compared to more serious, specific interval training) so you won’t feel as ‘worked out’ as you might with more traditional speedwork. It’s a great way to begin more structured training without the stress of a stopwatch, dialing in your form before you start to get specific.
Whether you want to run your first mile or set a PR, having a plan gets you there faster. Go to the MapMyRun app, tap “Training Plans” and set your next goal — you’ll get a schedule and coaching tips to help you crush it.