What Are Strides?
In essence, a stride is a short, typically 50 to 100 meter long acceleration in which you are gradually increasing your speed to a rate faster than your typical run pace. You are working on moving your legs quickly and focusing on good form over the short distance.
The term “acceleration” is perhaps a more appropriate name for this activity than the stride. The name stride can be a bit deceiving. The term makes it sound like you are supposed to take big bites of ground with your legs to increase your pace. In reality, you should be increasing your cadence, or the number of steps you are taking. This will be more effective in achieving the acceleration or “pick up” in speed that you are trying to accomplish. Increasing the length of your stride is less biomechanically efficient and leads to overstriding, a hallmark sign of inefficient gait mechanics, so this should be avoided.
Why do we even DO strides?
I get this question from clients and athletes alike. Strides serve multiple distinct purposes, and if you aren’t already including them in your running routine, let’s talk about why you should. There are three distinct scenarios when strides are beneficial. The purpose that strides serve in each scenario is slightly different.
How Fast Should My Strides Be?
The answer to this depends on the race that you are training for. Typically, your strides should be at a pace quicker than your race pace. Some like to think of this as the fastest pace you could sustain for an all out mile effort. However, despite these guidelines, you need not put emphasis on timing your strides. They should be more effort and quality based. Some prefer to think of stride pace as a percent effort, which, depending on the purpose ,would range from 75% to 95% of your max effort.
When Should I do Strides?
Strides are good to do after a run, before a workout, and before a race.
After A Run
Whether your run was an easy jog or an intense workout, ending with some strides serves a few purposes. First, doing a moderate pace stride that is not all out, but more like 75% effort or speed is intended to both facilitate muscle recovery, while also allowing you to fine tune aspects of your running form after an effort. It is hard, if not impossible to focus on maintaining good form for the full duration of a run. Thus, practicing good form over a shorter, quicker distance at the end of your effort can be more effective.
Before A Workout
Your warm up routine of jogging and dynamic stretches is helping to prepare your body for the demands of the workout that is to come. Adding a few accelerations to this pre workout routine can help you increase your heart rate, priming your cardiovascular system for the work it is about to do. Similar to at the end of the run, it is a great way to check in on your form and practice perfecting it as a way of priming your neuromuscular system before the hard effort.
Before A Race
The reasons for doing accelerations before a race are similar to why we want to do them before a workout. It is important to practice your same pre workout routine before your race so your body is prepared for the hard task. Additionally, many road races involve ample time to stand around and get cold and stiff before the gun goes off. Thus, strides serve the added benefit here of keeping your legs warm, your blood flowing and your body overall race ready.
Where to Start
It’s clear that strides serve a purpose for all runners. However, if you are new to trying them, it is important to start gradually. The first time you try them shouldn’t be on the starting line of your race (even if the fast looking runner next to you is doing them and you have a strong urge to look just as cool). You should start out doing accelerations a few times a week, over a shorter, 50 to 60 meter distance. You can start at your normal running pace and build up speed over the distance. Start with a few at a time, and have a specific focus for each stride, i.e. lift your knees, push off hard, ect. As you get more proficient with strides, you can start to do between four to six at a time.
Now you know the basics, it’s time to give it a try on your next run!
As physical therapists with first hand knowledge in both coaching and running, we can go strides beyond just alleviating your running pains at Zenith Performance and Wellness. Running requires a lot more than just lacing up your shoes and jogging out the door, and we are here to help you step up to your next starting line both healthy and prepared.