Running Strides: What Are Strides and Why Should We Do Them
Strides are really important. They should be a key aspect of all runners training routine. But what are they and why should you be doing them?
We aren’t talking about your stride pattern or stride shape- ‘Strides’ are simple and effective form of speed work. They also play an important biomechanical role. 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. When running fast you move more ballistically- improving strength and power and improving communication between brain and muscle.
Faster runners are more efficient runners. Ethiopian runners are known for their beautifully efficient running technique, and they hone this by making sure they run fast almost everyday. Each run or session with end with some form of sprint or stride work. Little and often go a long way! We can’t all run like Ethiopian track stars- but including some fast sprints or strides at least once a week either at the end of a session or during/ after an easy run will make a difference to all runners efficiency. It doesn’t need to be far (80-100 metres) and you don’t have to do many (4 -8 reps is fine), but you need to do it.
So how do you approach Strides? They are short relaxed sprints. Our aim is neuromuscular; training neural pathways between brain and muscle to fire more quickly and efficiently. There shouldn’t be any tension in your body, stress and fatigue prevent you from achieving your training goal. You don't see Usain Bolt with his shoulders around his ears when he's running fast- so no gurning please!
To run strides you need 80-100metres of open space. I prefer a park but road or track is fine. Run all the way to the end of the stretch, turn around and walk or slowly jog back to our starting position after each one. If 100% effort equates to a flat out sprint then you should aim for 85-90% effort. Fast but relaxed and fluent. Experienced runners aim for 8, less experienced you should do 5. Strides are great for focusing on technique, and here are 3 areas to think about when running. Concentrate on each area separately and then practise together at the end.
1. Relaxation is key.
Drop the shoulders- swinging arms like a pendulum from the shoulder joint. Stand tall, with a slight forward lean, and focus on relaxing your facial features.
2. Short sharp contact with the ground
Focus on using a fast turnover of steps with a short, sharp contact time with the ground. Don’t tip-toe- it needs to be firm and fast to propel you down the course.
3. Think ‘PULL’.
Your glutes are the largest, most powerful running muscles at your disposal, but they are often under-used. If you watch elite runners their gazelle like movement patterns rely on a 'turbine-shaped' stride pattern- with a high heel and knee lift, and short fast contact with the ground. Their glutes are really important- 'pulling' the foot quickly off the ground, and helping to bringing the foot back underneath their bodies and powering the body forward at ground contact. It might look more labour intensive- but that powerful high heel and knee lift is mechanically very efficient! How can you put this into practise? Think 'Pull'- practise quickly pulling your foot forward after it leaves the ground- giving you a high heel and knee lift. Quickly get the foot down (you don't want to prance like a horse!), and keep the turnover of strides, and contact with the ground sharp.