Stop blowing off strides

You need to do strides.  You need to do them several times a week – running strides before your workouts and running strides on your maintenance days.  Most runners I coach run their strides on Monday and Friday as part of their maintenance days.  They work out on Tuesday and often they have strides before that workout.  So that’s three days of strides each week.

What are strides?  For adult runners it’s just running a touch under 5k pace.  I like to see people do 30 seconds at this pace and then take 60 seconds easy.  So it’s very easy, yet it’s a great way to check in with your body to see how it’s feeling.  You might feel good running your normal easy run pace, but feel horrible on the strides.  That’s a great indication that you are not recovered from the previous few days of training, and that you might need to adjust things moving forward.  So that’s one reason to do strides – they are a window into your general level of fatigue.  Hopefully you feel nice and snappy doing strides, but again, if you don’t, then you need to reevaluate what you have on tap for the next workout (perhaps skip the workout, move the workout back in the week, or water down the workout).

Strides are also important biomechanically.  You spend the majority of your time running paces that are slower than 5k pace, and it’s easy to get your body into a groove where it only wants to run slow.  You hear people talk about “opening up their stride,” and that’s actually not a bad term.  When you do strides, your stride is longer than normal and you have different knee angles than when you run threshold pace and easy day pace.

Finally, strides, in a very subtle way, improve your Running Economy (RE).  Running Economy is best described by this analogy: take two runners, both with the same aerobic fitness.  But the first runner is more efficient (and technically, probably spends less time on the ground with each foot strike) than the second runner.  It’s obvious that the first runner will race faster than the second runner, because they are more efficient, i.e. they have a higher Running Economy.  For the novice runner, or the adult runner that never ran in high school or college, strides often improve RE, if only slightly.  While strides are not nearly as effective as speed development workouts when it comes to improving Running Economy, strides still improve RE a bit and this is a good thing.

It’s easy to blow off strides on a recovery day, especially if you don’t feel great on the run.  But 5 x 30 seconds at 5k pace with 60 seconds easy is not hard mentally, and you owe it to yourself to get in your strides.


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  • Milan

    well-written reminder, thank you!

  • CoachJay

    Thanks Milan. I appreciate it.

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  • Kicky

    Great reminder! My runners do strides nearly everyday either before, during, or after their runs in different variations. Here is a variation to your 5×30 seconds that changes it up and is easy to remember. 5 second stride at 5 minutes into your run, 10 seconds at 10 minutes, 15 at 15, 20 at 20 and so on. we will do these up to 60 seconds. Keep the good posts coming!

  • Anonymous

    I’m convicted!

  • Anonymous

    Jay, thanks for all your recent tips. This is quickly becoming one of my favorite blogs. Please keep the great info coming!

  • Coach Davis

    We do strides 4-5 times a week! On a pre-race day, we do them on hard surface, just to improve muscle tension a little.

  • Anonymous

    Thanks for your blog, it is always a good read. I have been doing strides by running a third build up, a third full speed and at third coasting. How are your 5k strides different and can one use both and, if so, how would you use each. Thanks for any input you might have.

  • J.Coy

    Coach Jay- Great site- the best resource for high school distance coaches, bar none.

    I’m going to take an opposing viewpoint on the implementation of strides for the sake of conversation, but also because I have never used them with my high school squads (at least in the classical version of post-run “strides”).

    In my opinion, I feel strides get thrown in “just because that’s what we always do” or for reasons that might not make sense, like speed development or mechanical work.
    I know from watching the Dr. Jeff Messer videos (which were awesome, BTW) that his runners do a ton of “strides”, but from what I hear him saying, these look to me more like true speed development sprints rather than what 90% of high schools are calling “strides”.

    What you typically see with most high school runners when they do strides after an easy run, is a couple of things:

    a. They run too far: 100-200m can take 20-45 seconds for some runners…if the kids are actually running these fast, this turns into a speed-endurance workout, which is most likely not what you’re looking for on a recovery/maintenance day.

    If they are running slow (like 3k/mile pace)… well there are other workouts in the micro-cycle that can take care of that pace range more effectively. It’s too close to the pace they were just running to help with an adaptation that strides are intended to give.

    b. Some coaches use strides for “Speed Development”- I’d argue that unless your strides are 30-80m and FAST, then they’re not doing a whole lot for “speed”. If you want speed development, you should have day exactly targeting speed.

    c. Improvement of form- how important is form? (not sure but good form is probably better than bad form) I think form work takes a fresh and focused athlete- and that’s not going to happen for HS kids after even an easy recovery run (thinking that the day before was likely hard).

    d. Let’s be honest- most high school kids run too fast on their easy days no matter what we say…and if they’re running slow it’s because they’re tanked. I can’t justify adding strides after either situation.

    e. The actual pace of “strides” is so close to the paces that we’re already running every week in races/workouts that it’s overkill. Would we add a 1k repeat @ 3k pace every couple of days? Probably not, even though energy system data would say it’s more specific than strides.

    We have never done strides post-easy run, but I shouldn’t say “never” because we do strides in these situations:

    a. Summer/Winter Pre-Season: Maybe be some sort of progression of “strides” but really just repetition work. If we want to run 5000m @ 20 sec per 100m, then I think we have to be able to run some 100m repetitions @ that pace 20 weeks out as a starting point. 15-20x100m @ 18-19 seconds in the summer should be able to turn into 5x1000m in 3:20 late-season without too much fancy planning.

    b. Part of a dynamic warm-up. Race-pace strides or training-pace strides.

    c. Part of a cool-down: workout + 4-6×40-80m strides @ mile/800 pace

    After Easy Runs we might use one of the following alternatives to strides- something that doesn’t resemble running but work that reminds the runner that they’re actually an athlete even after jogging around town at 9 minute pace on a recovery run.

    Many of these post-run routines assist in running fast without having to “run”, which is think is a perfect substitute for strides on recovery days.

    a. Strength Work- basic lifting to promote strength gains (ex. 4×4 Squats, etc.)
    b. Plyometric work- jump rope, hops, Gambetta
    c. Hill Sprinting (ex. 5×8 sec) in the middle of the run
    d. Jay Johnson GSM stuff
    e. Dynamic Warm-Up as post-run “cool-down”
    f. Circuit Training (diagonal of the football field w/ exercises @ corners)

    We’ve had some decent success without doing strides (four girls 2:16-2:18 this season and another 2:18 relay/5:03/10:42; 7:59 Boys 4×800) but I know there are way faster teams that do strides (Dr. Jeff Messer’s for example).

    Anyway, just another viewpoint, hope it inspires some discussion- maybe someone can produce some data that will entice me into doing strides with my team next fall!