Running Strides – How They Can Improve Your Running

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When I owned a running store, two or three times a year, we would lead a training group for new runners. While mainly focused on building fitness and endurance using a run/walk program, once all the runners were ready for something more advanced, we taught them how to run strides.

If you’re not familiar with strides, they are easy to do, help improve your form, increase speed, and are a great introduction to speed workouts.

In this article, we’re going to cover everything you need to know about running strides. This includes what they are, how and when to do them, and how they can improve your running.

Let’s get started!

What Are Running Strides?

Strides are short, quick bursts of speed with some recovery time in between each one. They generally range from 15 to 30 seconds or 50 to 150 meters, and your pace will max out at less than your fastest sprinting speed.

They are also known as “accelerations,” which is a great way to describe them. Because when done correctly, you start at 50% of your max speed and incrementally increase it until you are nearly finished, then briefly slow down to close each one out with 5-10 meters remaining.

If you do strides regularly and with proper form, you should see a noticeable improvement in your running efficiency!

How Do Strides Differ From Sprinting and Intervals?

Intervals and sprints might seem the same as strides, but there are key differences, specifically in the intensity and distance/duration.

Strides vs. Sprints

The intensity of running strides is lower than sprints. When running strides, your pace builds up throughout the workout, but unlike sprinting, you should never reach your fastest speed.

Sprinting is running at an all-out effort. From the start of your sprint, your goal is to go as fast as possible.

But with running strides, you build up your pace and maintain it for the set duration or distance at a far less intense pace. You want to aim for around 85% of your max speed with strides.

Strides vs Intervals

The biggest difference between strides and intervals is the distance. Strides are usually around 50 to 150 meters, while intervals can range from 200 to 1600 meters in one interval. Strides are easier to recover from than intervals since they’re not as intense or as long.

Intervals are also a bit more structured. Usually, you set a specific number of intervals, a certain distance, at a fairly high intensity, and certain recovery periods between each interval.

Why Should Runners Do Strides?

Strides help your running in two important ways. First, they will increase stride length, this is the distance you take on each step. Second, they’re great for training you to run at a high cadence.

A problem for new runners – and one of the reasons we practiced strides with our new runners during our training program – is overstriding. Overstriding reduces your cadence, which makes your running far less efficient. Plus, it opens you up to a higher chance of injury!

This is why strides are so important—they help you improve your stride length while staying efficient, translating into better form and higher speeds over time.

The way we taught new runners to do strides was by focusing on running form while doing each stride. This builds on good running form habits while increasing stride length (without overstriding!) and keeping a high cadence.

Benefits of Running Strides

Here are a few more reasons to incorporate running strides into your training.

Great for Form

It can be hard to maintain your form with intervals or sprints due to their intensity. Strides are much easier because they’re short and done at a lower intensity, so you should be able to maintain proper form throughout.

If you regularly do strides to improve your running form, it becomes much easier to get into good form habits. It also helps you speed up without losing your form, especially as you build more endurance.

Those 20 or 30 seconds that you’re speeding up and maintaining your form even as you lengthen your stride and push your cadence up turns into increased speed without sacrificing form.

Easy Speedwork Option

It can seem counterintuitive for distance runners to do speedwork, rather than sticking to your slower runs to build endurance or increase your threshold. Speedwork often requires a full training day, so long-distance runners might not want to sacrifice an entire day.

Strides are the happy medium. They’re a great way to work on your speed without doing the traditional speedwork workouts, and they’re also much easier to recover from than intervals or hill repeats.

You may even see strides built into many half- and full-marathon training plans. Usually, these are done mid-run so you don’t need to sacrifice mileage when doing them.

Excellent for Beginners

Beginners may find intervals and sprints difficult. But strides are fairly easy for new runners, thanks to their lower-intensity.

They’re also a great way for beginner runners to get used to the feeling of running faster. Your body will adapt much easier by running faster in smaller increments than jumping right into interval training. Less chance of injury too!

Good Warm-Up/Recovery Training

Strides can easily be used as a warm-up since they get the blood pumping but don’t fatigue your muscles. On the other end of the spectrum, they can be a great choice of recovery training, as they’re not intense but aren’t overly easy either.

When Should You Run Strides?

For new runners, we don’t recommend doing them in the middle of your run. They’re best done as a warm-up, after your run, or as a standalone training run. More experienced runners can do them mid-run, but we’d still recommend them for a pre- or post-run warm-up or cool-down.

It’s also important to note that you should have a running base before you start with strides. For our new runners in the Couch to 5k training program, we’d start introducing strides 4-5 weeks in, about halfway through the program.

At this point, it’s easier to start incorporating them in your warm-up, as they’ll get the blood pumping, the heart rate up, and the muscles warm. Start with 4 to 6 strides in one session and resist the temptation to do too many if they feel too easy!

How Often Should You Do Running Strides?

You only need to do strides once or twice weekly to benefit from them. This is a good starting point, so we suggest doing strides once a week as part of your initial warm-up.

You can do more, but it won’t increase your performance any more than 1 or 2 times a week will. You may also be susceptible to inadvertently overtraining, which can set you back. So try sticking to once or twice a week, as tempting as it may be to do more!

Where Can You Run Strides?

You can run strides anywhere! Wherever you usually run should be perfectly fine. All you need is the space and fairly flat ground.

  • Track: An easily measurable distance is a good choice if you want to run by distance and not time. Plus, it’s easy on the joints and the predictable surface lets you focus on your form quite nicely.
  • Park: A grassy surface is also good for the joints, but be aware that the surface is less stable and predictable than the track. Make sure the area is free from hazards and you aren’t encroaching on others as you run.
  • Road: Avoid doing strides on a road unless there is minimal traffic. If you can find a relatively quiet open road, it can be a good choice.
  • Trail: If you’re a trail runner, you can also do strides on the trails, although the terrain may be quite unpredictable and make it tricky to maintain good form and cadence.
  • Treadmill: Strides are just as easy to do on a treadmill. The surface is safe and low-impact. You’ll have to play with the treadmill speed to increase the speed gradually, but it’s manageable.

How to Do Running Strides

Here’s how to do them correctly. You may need to pay close attention for the first few weeks to make sure you aren’t going too fast – these shouldn’t be intervals.

1. Set Your Distance/Time

Choose whether to run a set distance—for example, 100 meters—or time—20 or 30 seconds. It’s a good idea to settle on this upfront.

There’s nothing wrong with switching it up from workout to workout or even from stride to stride. But you need to know beforehand to measure your distance or set your timer.

2. Forget Pace at First

Don’t think about how fast you need to run, or if you should go at your 5K pace or something else. Just forget about pace, and aim to run at a “relaxed push”—meaning a controlled pace that steadily increases.

You shouldn’t be straining at any point. If you’re working on the Rate of Perceived Exertion scale, you should be hitting about 85% of what you’re capable of, with plenty more in the tank.

3. Run Your Stride

There’s a bit of detail within a stride to make it a good stride. You should start easy, then actively speed up by increasing your stride length, and then taper back down as you come to the end.

For example, let’s imagine you’re running a 30-second stride. Here’s how it might look:

  • 10 seconds: easy run, building up
  • 15 seconds: actively increase pace
  • 5 seconds: take the foot of the pedal, deceleration

If you’re going for distance, here’s what it could look like:

  • First quarter: easy run, building up
  • 2nd & 3rd quarters: actively increase pace
  • Final quarter: take the foot of the pedal, deceleration

In terms of form, concentrate on two main things: squeezing your glutes and quickening your cadence. While the goal is to eventually increase your stride length, don’t think about striding longer—instead, focus on quickening your steps.

You might also want to lean slightly forward at the waist, keep your back straight, chest up, shoulders relaxed, and aim for a forefoot strike rather than a heel strike.

4. Full Recovery

When your stride is done, take the time to recover before you do your next one. That means one to 2 minutes of walking, light jogging back to your starting point, or just chilled walking if you’re on the treadmill.

We recommend an active recovery period, where you keep moving rather than simply standing around. If you’re starting your next stride from your ending point, you can do light jumping jacks or running in place.

5. Repeat

Repeat this process for the required number of strides in your session. Don’t skimp on the recovery, and make sure not to push too hard during your sides! 5-10 are a good number to aim for.

Common Mistakes to Avoid

Strides are super easy if you do them right, but it’s also easy to make mistakes without realizing it. These errors can cost you valuable running time as they increase your chances of injury and diminish the rewards proper strides will give you.

Running Downhill

Strides should be done on a flat surface. Once you’re used to them, you can start introducing hill strides, but they’re best done on flat ground.

Running downhill not only means it’s harder to control your pace but also places more strain on the muscles and joints, making you more prone to injury.

If you only have a sloped surface to do strides on, run uphill instead of downhill. It might be more tough, but it’s much safer and more controlled.

Going With Too Much Intensity

We know it feels wrong to do speedwork without giving it your full effort! But trust us, going too fast will ruin the benefits of strides and may also increase your chances of getting injured or overtraining.

If you must have pace to work with, your fastest point during your stride should be at your mile race pace. But we recommend not getting bogged down in the pace and speed numbers here and rather focusing on intensity and RPE.

Going too fast turns your strides into sprints, which have a different purpose and work the body quite differently. You’ll miss out on the valuable rewards you get from strides if you aren’t careful!

Too Little Recovery Time

Keeping your recovery time short instead of recovering fully between strides turns them into intervals. Your recovery time should range from one minute to 3 minutes, depending on how you feel.

You’re not going for PRs here, so there’s no need to cut your recovery time short. If you’re short on time in general, lower the number of strides you do in total, but don’t skimp on recovery time.

Stopping Too Suddenly

The tapering period at the end of your stride is essential. If you stop too suddenly, you risk injuring yourself and jarring your joints, and again, you won’t get the full benefit from the stride.

Be strict with your stride format: easy, accelerate, decelerate. You’re not competing here or trying to beat last time’s performance, so you can afford to do it properly.

Forgetting about Form

The whole point of strides is to increase your stride length, cadence, and pace while maintaining excellent form. If you’re neglecting your form during strides, you may as well not be doing them.

Overstriding is one of the easiest ways to injure yourself. Make sure you’re landing with your front foot under your pelvis, keeping your chest up, your back straight, leaning slightly forward at the hips, and tightening your core as you run.

Choosing Uneven Terrain

While you can definitely do strides on a trail, it’s not recommended unless you’re an experienced trail runner. The unpredictability of the terrain makes it harder to get a good stride in without a chance of injury, so stick to flat ground wherever you can.

Running Stride Workout Examples

Not sure how to start? Check out these running strides workout examples.

Beginner

  • Warm Up: 5 to 10 minutes, dynamic stretching, easy jog.
  • Strides: 4 to 6 strides, 85 to 90% of your maximum effort.
  • Recovery: 1 to 2 minutes between each stride.

Intermediate

  • Warm Up: 5 to 10 minutes, dynamic stretching, easy jog.
  • Strides: 6 to 8 strides, 85 to 90% of your maximum effort.
  • Recovery: 1 to 2 minutes between each stride.
  • Repeat: 2 to 3 times in workout, none if part of warm-up.

Advanced

  • Warm Up: 10 to 15 minutes, dynamic stretching, easy jog.
  • Strides: 8 to 10 strides, 85 to 90% of your maximum effort.
  • Recovery: 2 to 3 minutes between each stride.
  • Repeat: 4 to 5 times in workout, none if part of warm-up.

Summary: Tips for Running Strides Effectively

Ready to start running strides? Here’s a quick summary of how to do it right and start seeing the benefits in your running!

  • Warm-Up: Even if you’re doing strides as part of your warm-up, do some dynamic stretching and light walking or jogging before you start.
  • Always Watch Your Form: You know by now that this is the most important aspect! A stride with poor form will have negative effects rather than good ones.
  • Build Up Gradually: Both with building up your pace and with choosing how many strides to do, increase gradually to avoid injury.
  • Quicken Your Feet: Focus on taking quicker steps, NOT on extending your stride. If you only remember one thing, let this be it!
  • Recover Properly: Take as long as you need between strides. Don’t cut this out if you’re in a rush—rather lower your stride repetitions.
  • Be Surface-Wise: Make sure you’re running on a flat surface that’s free from hazards. Preferably, where other people can’t get in your way.
  • Vary Your Strides: You can vary your distances (100 yards, 150 yards, 50 yards) or your times (30 seconds, 20 seconds, etc) each time you do them. Sticking to one distance/time per workout is best for ease.
  • Cool Down: An easy jog or walk and some stretching is a great way to finish off after doing strides.
  • Listen to Your Body: Stop and rest if you feel pain or discomfort during strides. If it persists, stop doing strides and get checked by a medical practitioner.
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AUTHOR

Ben is an avid road and trail runner, and has completed multiple marathons and ultras. A former running store owner, he now shares his knowledge and experience writing these articles.