How Running Strides Can Improve Your Form And Speed

Enhancing Form and Speed Through Running Strides

Many runners are constantly striving for improvement, whether it’s running faster, refining their form, or reducing the risk of injury. While there are no shortcuts to success, there are certain aspects of running that deliver remarkable benefits. Running strides are one such element that can yield substantial improvements in just a few seconds.

Strides may not be a one-size-fits-all solution for addressing every weakness in running, but they are an invaluable training drill for most runners. So, who can reap the rewards of incorporating strides into their routine?

1. Long-distance runners aiming to enhance running economy.
2. Injury-prone runners looking to fine-tune their running form.
3. Runners seeking to maintain fitness levels during base building or maintenance phases.
4. Those returning to training after a hiatus.
5. Short-distance runners aiming to further develop their speed and power.

In essence, virtually all runners can benefit from incorporating strides into their training regimen. Strides enable you to maintain or even elevate your top-end speed while accumulating the high volume of training essential for endurance.


The Science Behind Running Strides

While runners often discuss speed and endurance, another critical aspect of running fitness is neuromuscular fitness, which involves the collaboration between your nervous system and muscular system. Enhancing neuromuscular fitness helps your muscles and nerves work together more efficiently.

Improved neuromuscular fitness contributes to better running form and a higher running economy, which refers to the effort required to sustain a particular pace. This improvement not only enhances your maximum speed but also the movement patterns necessary to sustain that speed without succumbing to injury. Strides engage all muscle groups relevant to running, along with the corresponding neural pathways. Over time, consistent strides help rewire your nerves and muscles, fostering better coordination for increased stride rates, quicker cadence, and greater power in your stride.

A 2018 study published in Physiological Reports underscores the performance benefits of incorporating strides into your training. This study involved twenty-six trained male and female runners, emphasizing the significance of their training status. As runners progress in the sport, achieving faster times and setting personal records becomes increasingly challenging.

During the 40-day study, participants completed ten sessions of 30-second strides. Their 10K performance was assessed before and after the intervention, both in regular conditions and when glycogen-depleted. The results were striking—30-second strides improved 10K performance by 3.2% in normal conditions and 3.9% in glycogen-depleted conditions. For these runners, completing 10K trials that dropped from 45 to 43 minutes in just 40 days was remarkable, with strides being the sole alteration in their training routine.

The study suggested that changes in 10K time trial performance were attributed to protein expression in slow-twitch muscle fibers. This implies that strides, despite being executed at high intensity, affect slow-twitch muscle fibers, extending their benefits to runners of all distances, including marathons and ultra-marathons.

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How to Execute Running Strides Effectively

The proper execution of strides holds more significance than understanding their purpose. Prolonging a stride session can inadvertently transform it from a neuromuscular drill into an anaerobic interval within seconds. Furthermore, practicing strides with subpar form, such as overstriding, reinforces unfavorable movement patterns.

To perform a stride correctly, follow these steps:

1. Location: Find a flat and smooth stretch of road, trail, or track. It’s best to undertake strides after completing your entire run or, at the very least, after a thorough warm-up.

2. Acceleration: Begin by accelerating gradually over approximately 10 seconds while maintaining a relaxed and smooth posture. Concentrate on achieving a quick turnover and propelling yourself forward, avoiding excessive striding beneath you. Ensure that you maintain an upright posture and employ a robust arm swing.

3. Maintain Pace: Once you reach a pace akin to your mile pace (the speed you believe you could sustain for 5-6 minutes in a race), sustain this pace for approximately 10-15 seconds. Stop when you begin to feel a noticeable effort in maintaining this speed. If you find yourself breathing heavily, you may have transitioned into an anaerobic workout rather than a stride.

4. Deceleration: Gradually decelerate over the course of a few seconds, coming to a controlled stop.

5. Recovery: Following the stride, take a rest or walk for a few minutes to ensure a complete recovery. The total time for each stride, including acceleration and deceleration, typically ranges from 20 to 30 seconds.

The generous rest intervals between strides are crucial. Similar to weightlifting, it’s not just your heart rate that needs time to lower before the next interval of effort. Your muscles and nervous system also require full recovery. Avoid rushing through the recovery intervals to save time or fit in more strides. It’s more advantageous to perform a few strides correctly than to do numerous ones without reaping the full benefits.

If you are new to strides, start with 2-4 strides per session. Gradually increase the number to 6-8 strides per session over time, depending on your available time and fitness level. You can incorporate strides after one to three easy runs per week.

It’s essential to note that runners with existing soft tissue injuries, particularly in the Achilles tendon or hamstring, may want to abstain from strides until their injuries have fully healed. The start-stop motion of strides can exacerbate acute muscle strains and hinder the healing process.


When Should You Incorporate Strides into Your Training?

The timing of strides in your training regimen can significantly impact their effectiveness. Here’s a breakdown of when and how to include them:

Post-Run Strides: When performed as a standalone exercise, strides are typically done immediately after completing your run. This approach is especially suitable for athletes who are new to strides. It also works well for runners with a dominant fast-twitch muscle fiber profile. Some experienced runners, particularly those with a dominant slow-twitch muscle fiber profile, can incorporate strides within the second half of their easy runs. This approach is also beneficial for time-constrained athletes. If you choose the latter approach, it’s crucial to return to a zone two intensity in between the strides.

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Warm-Up for Intervals or Tempo Runs: During race-specific training phases, you can integrate strides into your warm-up routine before engaging in interval or tempo sessions. After running a mile or two at an easy pace, include two to three 15-20 second strides as part of your dynamic warm-up. These strides prepare your body for faster running by activating neuromuscular connections and creating an appropriate level of muscle tension to facilitate optimal power output during the upcoming faster-paced segments.

Consistency is key to reaping the benefits of strides. Whether you incorporate them once a week or up to three times a week, aim for consistency over several weeks.


Common Mistakes to Avoid When Executing Strides

Executing strides correctly involves a degree of kinesthetic awareness, an understanding of how your body moves and positions itself during these drills. It’s acceptable to take some time to grasp the skill.

Nonetheless, there are some common mistakes to be mindful of when running strides to minimize the risk of injury:

Running Strides Downhill: Ideally, strides are performed on a flat surface or, alternatively, as hill strides (running strides uphill). Running downhill places increased stress on your muscles, and some runners may find it challenging to control their speed on a steep descent. If you’re in a hilly area, it’s advisable to run your strides uphill to avoid excessive muscle strain and injury risk.

Sprinting Strides: Strides are not meant to be sprinted. They should be executed at approximately one-mile race effort, not as an all-out sprint. Sprinting and strides differ in terms of energy systems and biomechanics. Strides are alactic, causing minimal fatigue when performed correctly. Sprinting too hard during strides can negate their intended benefits.

Poor Form: Maintain a slight forward lean while running strides. Leaning backward hinders your ability to reach peak velocity. A forward lean also ensures that your feet strike the ground beneath your body, preventing overstriding (landing with your feet in front of your body). Overstriding during strides can increase the risk of injury.


Should You Perform Strides with Shoes or Go Barefoot?

The question of whether to do strides with shoes or barefoot is a subject of debate among coaches. Some advocate for barefoot strides, highlighting that runners tend to avoid overstriding and reduce ground contact time when running barefoot. Barefoot strides can be effective, especially if you have poor running form or weak feet. However, for most runners, barefoot strides may not be the most practical option. Therefore, there’s no need to prioritize barefoot strides over regular strides unless it’s a personal preference.

If you decide to incorporate barefoot strides into your training routine, it’s essential to take certain precautions. Perform them on a smooth grass surface free of debris to reduce the risk of injury. Before transitioning to barefoot strides, prepare your body by incorporating some barefoot drills such as barefoot hops (initially with both feet and then single leg), barefoot bounds, and very short barefoot runs of about 30-50 yards (or 30-45 meters). Once you feel comfortable with these drills, you can progress to performing barefoot strides.

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Can You Execute Strides on a Treadmill?

There are circumstances when outdoor running may not be feasible or safe. During the winter, cold temperatures and slippery surfaces can increase the risk of injury when attempting high-speed strides outdoors. Additionally, early morning runs in low-light conditions may limit visibility, making it challenging to spot potential hazards like sidewalk cracks.

In such situations, runners often turn to the treadmill as an alternative. If you have strides scheduled on these days and are considering doing them on a treadmill, it’s essential to consider individual factors. Some runners can safely perform strides on a treadmill without any issues. However, for runners with a history of posterior chain injuries (such as Achilles or hamstring injuries), treadmill strides may place excessive strain on these vulnerable areas.

As a general guideline for treadmill strides, it’s advisable to extend the duration to approximately 25-30 seconds to account for the slower pace increase of the treadmill belt. Additionally, use a minimum incline of 1% to better simulate outdoor running conditions. It’s crucial to listen to your body during treadmill strides. If you experience any pain or discomfort, it’s advisable to stop and seek alternative training methods to avoid potential injuries.


Final Words – How Running Strides Can Improve Your Form And Speed

In conclusion, running strides offer a valuable opportunity for runners to enhance their form and speed. Regardless of whether you’re a long-distance runner looking to improve running economy, an injury-prone runner aiming to refine your form, or someone returning to training after a break, strides can be beneficial. These short bursts of high-intensity running engage the neuromuscular system, leading to improved running mechanics and a more efficient running economy.

Scientific studies have demonstrated the significant performance benefits of incorporating strides into your training routine. They have the potential to boost your race performance, even in glycogen-depleted conditions. Furthermore, strides affect slow-twitch muscle fibers, making them advantageous for runners of all distances, from the 10K to the marathon and ultra-marathon.

Executing strides correctly is crucial for reaping their full benefits. Finding the right location, maintaining proper form, and allowing adequate recovery between strides are key factors. Whether you choose to do strides immediately after your run or as part of your warm-up for specific workouts, consistency is essential.

Finally, avoiding common mistakes such as running strides downhill, sprinting during strides, or maintaining poor form can help minimize the risk of injury and maximize the effectiveness of this training drill. When it comes to the choice between running strides with shoes or going barefoot, it’s a matter of personal preference, with both options offering potential benefits. Additionally, for those seeking an indoor alternative during unfavorable weather conditions, treadmill strides can be an option, but caution should be exercised, especially if you have a history of posterior chain injuries.

Incorporating strides into your training regimen and executing them with precision can contribute to improvements in form and speed, ultimately helping you become a more efficient and faster runner.

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