Running is a pretty simple sport, right? Put one leg in front of the other and pump your arms a little bit, and you have the skills necessary to run a marathon. Actually, there's a lot more to it than that. Like any sport, running isn't necessarily instinctive. Just as major league pitchers don't throw the baseball like they did in the front yard with dad, good runners don't run like they did on the school playground. It takes hours of practice and conditioning to develop proper technique and improve performance. One way runners try to achieve these goals is through a strides workout.
Strides basically involve quickly accelerating to race speed or faster and maintaining that pace for a short distance, usually no more than 100 meters (328 feet). Such sprints may seem unnecessary for long-distance runners who rarely break a brisk jog, but if done regularly, strides can drastically improve an athlete's form. Better form means a more efficient gait, leading to faster race times and fewer injuries. Incorporating strides into your workout can give you an important edge over your competitors in a sport where seconds mean the difference between first and second place.
Whether or not you choose to make strides a part of your exercise routine really depends on your level of conditioning and your goals. While this workout can be beneficial for runners of all ages, beginners may lack the overall strength and endurance to run at this level without injuring themselves. Once runners are comfortable jogging for 30 minutes three or four times a week, they can safely use strides to improve their speed and technique. So whether you have Olympic aspirations or you just want to move up in the pack at your local 5K, read on to learn how to develop an effective strides workout and discover the benefits you can expect from such a plan.
Training with Strides
Strides is a general term for a widely varied set of workouts intended to improve some aspect of your running form or speed. The basic idea of this conditioning method is to push yourself to, or beyond, normal race speed for a short distance. Strides should always be run in flat, grassy fields or on cushioned track surfaces to lessen the impact on your body and prevent injury. You should also give yourself a minute or two to recover between stride sets because fatigue can worsen the very technique you're trying to improve. With these general principles in mind, you're ready to get running. Here are a few ways you can put strides to work:
- Before a race: One beneficial time to run strides is right before a race. Try doing four to six pre-race strides of 80 to 100 meters (262 to 328 feet) each. Quickly accelerate to race speed, hold that pace, and then slowly decelerate.
- After an easy run: Running strides after jogging at a relaxed pace is also useful. After stretching for five or 10 minutes, accelerate to and hold your 5K speed for about 100 meters. Repeat this exercise six to eight times.
- As a stand-alone workout: Strides are an excellent way to perfect your form and increase your speed. For a technique-focused workout, run three sets of five 150-meter strides, with a full recovery between each set. These can be run at speeds from your mile pace to an all-out sprint. During each set, focus on some aspect of your form: stride length, hand position, knee height or body posture. The track is an excellent place to do speed-building strides. Sprint the straightaways and jog or walk the turns. Try to complete four laps when you first start, then slowly build to 12 by adding a couple of laps every two weeks.
While strides workouts can be grueling, they're sure to make you a better runner. The following section details the benefits you can expect if you stick with this workout.
Benefits of Strides
While no real scientific studies have tested the effects of stride workouts on runner performance, most athletes and coaches agree that they're beneficial. Runners who include strides in their training regimens seem to perform better than runners who simply run long distances at race pace or slower. This difference was dramatically illustrated during the 1930s after the development of Fartlek, a conditioning method characterized by periods where a runner exceeds his or her normal training pace during a run. In the decade following its introduction, Fartlek-trained runners set world records in the 5K, the 10K, the 2-mile, the indoor 2-mile, the 3-mile, the 4-mile, and the 5,000 and 10,000 meters. Fast-paced stride workouts undoubtedly have similar benefits.
Strides can help boost your ability in a variety of ways. When done before a race, they initiate fast-twitch muscle fibers you use during the race and improve communication between your brain and muscles. The resulting improvement in coordination makes running feel more natural at the beginning of a race. Doing strides after a relaxed training run helps coach your body to pick up the pace as you jockey for position at the end of a race. On race day this final burst could propel you ahead of several less-conditioned runners.
Stride workouts don't just have the potential to improve your speed, they also can be used to correct inefficiencies in your running form. Using strides to focus on technique, you can eliminate common problems like overstriding, excessive arm swinging and poor posture. Once you correct these inefficiencies, your speed is likely to increase even more.
For runners looking to advance their ability to the next level, strides are a great way to get there. Of course, this conditioning method is just one part of a well-balanced workout, but if executed properly, strides are sure to give you a definite edge come race day.
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