Become a Faster Runner With Strides
These short bursts during a training run teach your body how to run faster and more efficiently
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The stride gets your body primed to run fast. Many runners do strides before hard workouts and races, but the stride can be implemented as a training tool outside the warmup to improve your running form and economy.
A stride, in this context, is short burst of controlled speed, ranging from 60-150 meters, staying loose and relaxed. The aim is not to go all-out but to gradually introduce a faster tempo. Think of the number of striders you do as a progression, each one getting slightly faster than the last.
There are a number of different ways runners can insert strides into their training. Strides offer the unique benefit of being able to sneak in quality work, strengthening your neuromuscular response and getting your legs used to a faster turnover rate without tiring the body very much.
Easy Runs Plus Strides
The first place to start adding strides is after your easy runs. Finish your run with four to six strides, giving yourself a jogging or standing rest between. Go into each stride recovered, but because each stride isn’t all-out you shouldn’t need more than 60-90 seconds between each.
“I do strides on my easy days after my run,” said trail runner, writer and author Morgan Sjogren. “This reminds my body to run fastest at the end of a workout or race, practice good form, loosen up any tightness and prime my body to run fast the next day during my workout.”
Start by doing simple striders one or two days a week, after your easy runs, and gradually build from there. Strides can also be inserted within your easy runs; sprinkle them in after a couple miles. These should feel relaxed and you shouldn’t worry about the time or length between each one. Don’t think of this as a workout—without stress, adding these strides should actually feel freeing and fun. There is no set length or pace—just embrace the feeling of running at a faster pace.
Bust Out Of A Bad Run
Every runner knows the feeling of a flat run or even a straight-up bad run. They are commonplace and come with the territory for a runner in training. Interestingly enough, you can sometimes break out of a stale run by introducing some strides. It sounds counterintuitive, (why would running faster feel any better?) but because running at a quicker pace will cause you to shift into a different energy system during the faster bout, and recruits more neural pathways and muscle fibers, your pace will feel easier when settling back into your easy pace.
Sometimes your body needs the change of pace to reset; running is one of the most repetitive actions around and your legs can get stuck in a cadence rut, which results in that stale feeling. Strides certainly can’t prevent you from never having a flat run ever again, but they can turn some of those runs around—which is not only much more enjoyable but also gives you the added fitness benefit of having those pick-ups.
Once you’ve gotten used to adding standard strides into your training, you can experiment with hill strides to build even more power behind that speed. The key is to keep these bursts short (think 10 seconds) and ensure that you’re giving yourself ample recovery. In order to keep this from turning into too much of a workout, these strides have to be short and should not be all-out, and a little more recovery is needed.
Think of these like mini-plyometrics which, over time, will add up. These hill sessions can even be done in a double-day style; coming back later in the afternoon of an easy run for some loose strides after a short warm-up. More advanced runners can even come back in the afternoon of a hard workout for some short speed bursts.
Training The Neuromuscular Response
Running faster requires nerve passageways to be built and having taught those synapses to fire more quickly. Even with the strongest legs in the world, a runner still needs to teach his or her feet to cycle faster before that strength can translate into faster times. That is why things like strides, quick-feet drills and ladder drills are important to take advantage of.
Distance runners tend to tense up any time they think they need to run fast; to avoid trying too hard, remind yourself to relax and stay loose because that will ultimately enable you to run faster. Stop stressing and just run.
“If I’m tight or tired, I make sure my strides are relaxed and focused on form,” Sjogren said. “At least once a week I push the pace and shorten the strides to 8-12 seconds to help recruit my fast-twitch muscles and speed.” Strides are merely a tool to get you running above your easy pace and practicing turn-over, so don’t hold any hard and fast expectations.
By introducing more strides into your regular weekly routine, that extra time spent at a faster rate will improve both your neuromuscular and muscular ability to feel more relaxed and in control while running up-tempo. Sneak those strides into the mix outside of your warmup routine and you’ll gain fitness, speed and even have a tool to bust out of some of those crummy runs.