The results are in, and they say that running quick bursts of speed, like running strides, can make you faster…like, a lot faster.
In fact, research shows that running strides (also called accelerations, striders or stride-outs) a couple times a week gives you more bang for your buck in running performance than pretty much any other extra you do other than straight running.
Strides work wonders in improving neuromuscular fitness, running form, running economy, and strengthening your body.
So, what are strides in running? In this article, I’m going to get to the basics about:
- what strides are in running terms
- how to run strides
- when to run strides, and
- drill down to the science of why you should run strides.
Buckle up and let’s go!
What are strides in running?
Strides are a gradual acceleration over the course of 20 to 30 seconds or 100 meters.
With your strides, you gradually accelerate your pace so that you are running close to top speed in the middle (for less than ten seconds), and then decelerate to a jog at the end. Think of strides as a bell curve where you are at the height of your speed only in the center.
Strides are not the same as sprints which are full out running for the duration of the distance.
Strides are also not the same as intervals. Intervals are meant to improve cardiovascular fitness. The main purpose of strides are neuromuscular fitness.
Thus, intervals are longer in duration and have a shorter recovery time.
Related: How to Fix Running Form
How do you run strides?
The name of the game in strides is proper running form.
- Find a flat, straight surface about a football field’s length.
- Begin to pick up speed so that you are running at 95 percent of your top speed at about 40-50 meters in.
- Hold your top speed for about 5 seconds.
- Decelerate to a jog.
- Focus on standing tall, with your arms swinging by your sides, legs under your body, hips straight, and a quick turnover on your feet. You may even run on your toes to pick up speed.
- Stop, wait a full minute, or until fully recovered.
- Then, repeat (usually 4-6 times at the end of a run or before a workout).
It’s important to remember that the purpose of strides is not to strengthen your cardiovascular system. The purpose is to improve your neuromuscular system. So proper form is paramount.
Thus, shortening the recovery time in which you are running strides while still fatigued provides zero benefits.
When should you run strides?
Aim to run strides after an easy run a couple of times a week. Here’s how to introduce strides into your running training schedule:
- After you’ve been running consistently for 3 days or more a week for at least 6 weeks, you can introduce running strides into your running.
- Start strides two days a week after easy runs, on nonconsecutive days.
- Complete your easy run.
- Find a straight, flat surface to run your strides.
- Start with 4 strides.
- Remember to focus on form and fully recover in between.
- After a couple of weeks of strides, you can add one and do 5, then 6.
- You can also try hill strides one day per week, starting with 4, in which you run about 50 meters at a progressively faster pace on a gradual incline.
Related: Free Training Plans!
Should I run strides before a race?
Strides are also used as part of a warm-up before a hard effort or race as they loosen up the tendons, joints, and muscles.
Here’s how to run strides as a warm-up:
- Do your easy warm-up of 1-2 miles, running drills, and then perform 4 strides right before your race or workout.
- Many people do their strides on the start line of a race.
What pace should strides be run at?
There is no correct pace for strides. Instead, it’s based on your rate of perceived effort. Strides should be run at close to max effort, like a 9.5 out of a scale of 1 to 10.
Your pace for strides is closest to your mile pace. So, if you are a 6-minute miler, your stride pace will be 6 minutes, or faster.
How many strides should you do?
Start with four strides two times a week, at most four. After a couple of weeks, you can add another stride to each session. Typically, you do not do more than six strides per session.
Do not run strides if you are new to running or are recovering from an injury. You should only attempt strides after running consistently for at least six weeks.
Why should I run strides?
Strides are amazing because you get so much for just a little bit of effort (really a total of about 4 minutes a week).
- Improve running form and turnover
- Improve running economy
- Strengthen muscles and prevent injury, and
- Make you faster.
It does this by improving the connection between your brain and muscles so that when your brain tells your muscles to move, your muscles learn how to do it in the most efficient way possible, using the least amount of energy. This improves cadence and runner’s turnover, hip extension, and stride length.
Strides also wake up fast-twitch muscles, making them more ready to work when you hit the ground.
Also, the fast-running creates stress on your bones, muscles, tendons, ligaments, and joints. When you recover, these structures build back faster.
Strides also work as a wonderful bridge to faster running by metabolically and structurally readying the body for the intensity of fast running.
Can I run strides on a treadmill?
You can run strides on a treadmill though it is not ideal or recommended. That is because the main purpose of strides is to improve form and your form is altered on a treadmill. Also, you can’t really lengthen your stride on a treadmill as you would when running fast on ground.
When running strides on a treadmill its best to perform them more in the form of surges embedded in a run:
- In the last one or half-mile of your run, slow to a jog and then increase your pace quickly on the treadmill so that you are running close to top speed (but not top speed!).
- Run fast at a controlled pace for about 3-5 seconds, then decrease your speed quickly to a jog.
- Recover for a couple of minutes at a slow jog.
- Repeat 4 to 6 times.
- Each acceleration should take about 20 to 30 seconds.
Can I run strides barefoot?
Running strides barefoot is a great way to strengthen your foot muscles, ankles, and calves. But don’t jump into it!
- Do strides for a couple of weeks before attempting one to two strides in a session barefoot on grass, on a flat, straight surface.
- Next week, aim for up to four barefoot strides in a session.
- If you tolerate that well, aim to do one session of barefoot strides a week for benefits!
What Science Has Found About Speed
I want to drill down into some recent research about speedwork and how these bursts of speed can make you run faster.
A 2018 Journal of Strength and Conditioning article found that runners who did three speed sessions per week for two weeks (4 to 7 30-second fast shuttle runs with 4 minutes recovery between each), found that:
- speed increased by 2.8 percent,
- time to exhaustion increased by 159 seconds, and
- a 3k time trial improved by 5.7 percent.
That’s a lot of improvement in just about 12 to 15 minutes of work!
A 2014 review article in Sports Medicine found that in 16 different trials of runners doing 30-second intervals (very similar to striders),
- saw an improvement in aerobic capacity by 8 percent!
Another study, published in 2018, in the Physiological Reports, had 20 athletes do 5 to 10 30-second sprints with a 3.5 minute recovery in between. They ALSO reduced weekly running volume by 36 percent. The research found that the participants:
- Running economy during a 10k improved by 2.1 percent (hard effort), and
- running economy during intervals at 60 percent of VO2 max improved by 1.7 percent (easy effort).
How? In general, these speed bouts improved running economy by increasing the enzymatic activity of the aerobic system, making runners able to run faster using less energy. Specifically, these studies found or theorize these running economy improvements come from:
- increased markers of aerobic metabolism,
- improvements in the lactate shuttle,
- enhanced neuromuscular capacity,
- improved slow-twitch fiber structural integrity, and
- improved mitochondrial efficiency (due to decreased expression of a muscle protein called UCP3).
Strides are an amazing way to boost fitness and form! If you are consistently running but not doing strides yet, do it! You won’t regret it!
If you want more running guidance, check out my run coaching services.