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If you can only do one type of running, many of us choose slow, steady running—“zone 2” is the trendy name for it these days. But if you want to take the next step toward becoming faster and more athletic, consider adding strides to your run.

What are strides?

Strides are short pickups, usually 20 to 30 seconds at a time, where you move your legs faster. They’re not the same as intervals, which are increases in effort. A stride, or strider, will feel a little harder than your steady running, but the effort isn’t the point.

Instead, strides’ purpose is to teach you to move your legs quickly, and to give you a moment to work on your running technique without tiring yourself out. Running coach Jason Fitzgerald famously told our own Meghan Walbert to consider introducing strides as she was beginning to take up a running habit. Runners also use them to warm up for hard efforts and to practice running fast even when they’re tired.

When and where should you add strides in a run?

The traditional place to put strides is at the end of an easy run. A few minutes before the run is over, do a 30-second stride, then walk for a minute or so, and repeat a few times.

The best place to do strides is on a flat, straight section of road where you won’t have to stop for traffic or dodge obstacles. If you run on a busy park path full of strollers and dog-walkers, you might want to do your strides on nice grassy area you can run across without too much maneuvering.

Another good time to run strides is during your warmup before a harder workout or a race. Jog a mile to warm up, then do a few striders to really wake up your legs.

How to do strides

I’ve been describing strides as being about 30 seconds long, but you don’t have to time them exactly. Try this for your first set of strides, which will take about 20 seconds:

  • Accelerate while you count slowly to 5
  • Hold that pace while you count slowly to 10
  • Decelerate for the last 5

Notice that the stride includes both acceleration and deceleration phases. You don’t blast off from a standstill and then screech to a halt; the idea is to get your legs moving quickly but under control, and smoothly changing paces is part of that.

A typical recommendation is to do about four strides to start with, and to jog, walk, or even stand around until you feel recovered enough to do the next one—likely about a minute or two. Aim to do strides at least once a week. As you get used to them, you can do them more often, and you can increase from four strides to 6—8.

During your strides, think about running with good form. Hold your body tall, and aim to land your feet right underneath you instead of reaching way out in front. If you need just one thing to focus on, make it your cadence: you want to be making short, quick steps instead of long, bounding leaps.

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