When it comes to improving your running technique, you may have done long runs, or intervals, or even tempo training. But have you tried doing strides? Strides are also known as accelerations and they are beneficial for every distance category—be it a 100m sprinter, a 5k mid-distance runner, or a marathon. In strides, you start running at a gentle jog, then you gradually build to about 95% of your maximum speed, and then gradually slow down to a stop. A stride can be 50-150m in length, or can last 20-30 seconds.
These are, however, different from sprints, which are done at your maximum effort. During a sprint, the idea is to go all out (which is generally 95% of your max, given that you will give your 100% only during a race). But in a stride, the focus is on your form. So even if the distance remains the same, you adjust your pace to one where you can maintain good running posture. If intervals are meant to improve cardiovascular fitness, then the main purpose of strides is neuromuscular fitness.
When should you run strides: Strides are versatile, and can be done along with your other runs. It promotes running efficiency with an emphasis on form and turnover. The easiest way to include strides into your running routine is by doing it as part of your weekly schedule. On days when you are doing an easy run, do strides after your run, almost like a stretch. This can improve your RoM (range of motion), and shake out the usual tightness that you feel after running many kilometres at a consistent pace.
On days that you are supposed to run fast, do it before your speed work, but after the warm up. This can help your body prepare for the speed, working almost like a bridge between your slow-paced warm up and your fast-paced speed run. Many professional runners also practice strides just before their marathons. But unless you are trying to break a record, or are very used to this, there is no point experimenting with your race day routine.
How to run strides: Select a 100m patch which is flat and straight surface. This makes your stride easier. Begin to pick up speed so that you are running at 95% of your top speed at about 40-50 meters in. Hold this speed for 5 seconds, before slowing down to a jog. Rest for a minute, or till you feel completely recovered.
During the stride, remember to focus on standing tall, with your arms swinging by your sides, your legs under your body, your hips straight, and a quick turnover on your feet. You may even run on your toes to pick up speed. Skip strides if you are recovering from an injury or are absolutely new to running. Start with four strides, twice a week, at most four. After a couple of weeks, you can add another stride to each session. Typically, you must not do more than six strides per session.
For treadmill runners strides can be incorporate as part of your run. Just run the last one or two kilometers as a stride without ending your workout and starting afresh. Slow down to a jog first, and then increase the pace so that you are running at 95%. Hold that pace for 5 seconds, then slow to a jog. Repeat for 4-5 times, without actually stopping the treadmill.