What Are Strides? Why You Need to be Running Strides

What are strides? I get this question ALL THE TIME so I thought it would be helpful to explain exactly what they are and how to use them in your training.

I also surveyed runners on Twitter – you can follow me @JasonFitz1 – to see if they ran strides. I’m glad I’m not the only one who loves them so much!

Running Strides

Strides – or accelerations – are a staple of almost every high school, university, and professional running team. Whether you’re an 800m specialist, cross country runner, or an aspiring marathoner, strides are a fundamental building block of speed and coordination.

But the majority of recreational runners never do them despite a host of benefits.

This is fascinating because they only take a few minutes, help you dramatically improve your training, and they can be done anywhere.

So, what exactly are strides?

What are strides?

Strides are also known as striders, stride-outs, or accelerations.

They’re about 100m accelerations where you start at a jog, build to about 95% of your max speed, and then gradually slow to a stop. One stride should take you about 20-30 seconds depending on your ability.

You can start with four strides and after 3-4 weeks increase that to six. Take about 60-90 seconds of walking or standing in between each stride to catch your breath. Running strides is not an aerobic workout so don’t rush them – you get zero additional benefit by shortening the recovery period!

In fact, it’s best to think of strides as a speed development workout. The goal is not aerobic development, endurance, or getting in “a good workout.” Rather, it’s turnover and building comfort at high speeds.

Here’s a video demonstration of how to run strides:

Keep in mind that strides are very short and you’re only running really fast for a few seconds, so they shouldn’t be too difficult. Fast does not always mean hard.

Always remember to stay relaxed during a stride – at no point should you be straining, struggling, or racing.

Where should I be running strides?

You can run them anywhere! I’ve done them in parking lots (be careful…), sidewalks, roads, fields, or on the track. If your yard is big enough you can even do them there.

All you need is a clear place to run that’s about 100 meters in length.

My favorite way to intelligently use barefoot running in a training plan is to incorporate barefoot strides 1-2 times per week. It’s best to do these on a synthetic turf track where the surface is predictable, plush, and free of debris.

If you’re a track athlete or you like racing in spikes or racing flats, strides with your racing shoes can serve as a useful “bridge” between running full-time in training shoes and more aggressive racers.

Just finish your run, change shoes, and start striding out!

When should I run strides?

Strides are best incorporated in two different situations:

  1. After an easy or base run. In this scenario, think of strides as a dynamic stretch. They help increase your range of motion, work on your turnover, and subtly improve your form. By shaking out some of the tightness you might feel after miles of running at the same pace, strides can help you feel better for your next run.
  2. Before a workout or race. Here, strides prepare your body to run fast. They serve as your transition to sustained, harder running.

In either situation, strides should be run at about the same distance and pace. It’s rare to change how a stride is executed.

But rules are meant to be broken! If you’re preparing for a very short, fast race like a mile on the track or 800m, you may want to do shorter, faster strides. They’ll do a better job of opening up your range of motion and metabolically priming you for running really fast.

And the opposite holds true as well: if you’re running a marathon, a few longer, slower strides can help you warm up properly. These can be embedded in a 5-10 minute pre-marathon warm up run.

If you’re not vying for a Boston Qualifying time, just skip the running before the race. It’s too stressful and eats up more energy than is worth it for slower runners.

Why should I be running strides?

This is like answering the question, “Why should I do a long run?” The benefits are so profound that I’m not sure where to start!

But here’s a short list to get you excited about running strides:

  • They help you loosen up after a slow distance run
  • Strides serve as a transition to faster workouts – especially for beginners learning how to start running
  • They increase your running economy by reinforcing proper running form (i.e., they make you more efficient)
  • When done barefoot, they develop foot and lower leg strength with only a small risk of injury
  • They metabolically prepare you to run fast before a race or hard workout
  • They only take a few minutes
Many runners report that they’re able to run faster (with less effort) on their distance runs after several weeks of running consistent strides. Give them a try for 4 weeks and let me know how you feel!

This graph shows you a rough outline of how your effort should look when running strides:

What are strides?

Most of the runners I coach tell me that they’ve learned to love strides and they make them feel better. Since they’re short, strides don’t require too much effort and they’re actually easy for most people.

Can I run strides on a treadmill?

Of course! Strides are so versatile you can certainly run them on the treadmill.

You’ll need to do them slightly differently than outside, though. Remember these tips for treadmill strides:

  • Run them during the last mile of your run instead of after the run
  • Increase the pace quickly to simulate accelerating on the road
  • Peak at a controlled (but not maximum) sprint for 2-3 seconds and then quickly decrease the pace
  • Decrease the pace to 10-30 seconds slower than your easy running pace to recover
  • Run easy for about 1-2 minutes before increasing the pace for the next stride

This pattern can be repeated to run 4 or more strides on the treadmill.

Want to learn more about workouts like these? Register for my free beginner’s running course!

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Comments

  1. Strides are a very often overlooked part of the training plan, so this was a great post.

    I also find runners do them wrong if you don’t properly explain what they are (like doing them in the middle of a run, trying to run too fast, like an all-out sprint, and not resting enough – it’s not a workout, just a means to turn the legs over). Good job touching on all those points!

  2. I do do strides, every time they show up on my plan. I almost always have trouble not all out sprinting them, but I figure…at least I know I am doing it incorrectly, knowing is half the battle! And I dislike them, mostly because they usually show up on the last day of a hard training week, on the track…when I am tired…such is the life…I think they show up there for a reason, but….it could just be because my plan writer knows how much I hate them…LOL….

  3. Mike Lucas says:

    Very helpful article! When I first started running I kept asking “what the heck are these strides everyone talks about” and had to do a lot of googling to figure it out.

    Now I didn’t think I had anything more to learn about strides … but maybe I did because I’m confused about something! 95% effort is just ‘mile race pace’? I always thought it would be a fair bit faster than that.
    Maybe I’ve been running the peak part of my strides too fast. It certainly doesn’t feel like I could sustain that peak speed for a whole mile.

    What I’ve been doing is I aim for the peak speed section of the stride, to be “as fast I can go while still feeling completely in control and no risk of hurting anything”. This probably differs based on surface — a grass field that not entirely flat would force a somewhat slower pace, just so you don’t tweak anything on a little bump. But I still think it’s faster than mile race pace!
    Should I be backing off a bit from the peak speed of my strides?

    • Hey Mike – your strategy is fine. There’s no exact pace for the “fast” part of a stride. As long as you’re not going 100% and staying in control, you’re probably doing them correctly. The reason I mention mile race pace is that for most runners it keeps them from going too fast. I typically do a 100m stride on the track in about 17 seconds – or 4:32 mile pace – which is about my PR. So my ENTIRE stride averages out to mile pace, meaning my fast part is significantly faster. That’s fine for faster or more experienced runners because they’re more in control at faster speeds, i.e., at higher percentages of their max speed.

      • Mike Lucas says:

        Thanks Jason, that makes sense.

        Approx 4:32 mile PR, that’s great! I think I can run a mile in about 5:10 – 5:20, maybe faster, but need to actually try it sometime. I’m currently reading Tom Derderian’s history of the Boston marathon, and it’s really interesting how the winners / elite runners from the early days up until the 70s, really varied in their ‘speed’ ability. You had guys with best mile times barely under 5 minutes competing against 4:0x milers, and the ‘slower’ guys still won a lot of the time.

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