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Barefoot Running Coach Certification: Why It’s a Bad Idea

Posted by on Sep 3, 2011 | 15 Comments

Yeah, yeah, I know.  This is supposed to be a university-like environment.  I should embrace the idea of a barefoot running coach certification. On paper, it sounds like a grand idea.  Imagine a small group of experts hammering out a curriculum to help standardize the practice of teaching barefoot running.  Wouldn’t that be great?

I vote for no.

Here’s my rationale:

1. We don’t know enough.  Yes, we have some good empirical research.  Yes, we have a lot of anecdotal research.  Is this enough to determine if there’s one best method to teach barefoot running?  I don’t think so.  Currently there are many people teaching many different methods.  All have led to successful transitions.  We’re not at a point where we can confidently say one method is better than another.

2. Certifications give the impression of expertise, which limits experimentation.  One of the coolest aspects of the barefoot running movement is the constant experimentation that takes place.  Lots of people are doing lots of different things.  That leads to new discoveries.  If one “method” is deemed to be the right method, many people will blindly follow and stop innovating.  That’s bad.  We need the contribution of every barefoot runner.

3. The “experts” have a limited range of experiences, myself included.  The people that are widely recognized “experts” really shouldn’t be given this title.  Some of us have extensive experience actually running barefoot.  Some of us have extensive experience teaching about barefoot running.  Some of us have an anatomy and physiology (or other science-ish) background.  Most of us have some combination of these three elements.  Does that make us an irrefutable authority on barefoot running?  Absolutely not.  None of us have all the answers.  The moment we think we do is the moment we stop opening ourselves up to new experiences.

4. Certification is a piss-poor indicator of competence, regardless of the field.  Anyone can read up on material and pass a test.  That’s all I have to say about that.

5. Certifications are nothing more that institutionalized gatekeepers.  I oppose all gatekeepers out of principle, even if it involves barefoot running.  They do nothing more than give a false dichotomy of choice- get certified or don’t get certified.

6. Certification creates a monopoly of information.  I’m a firm believer in the free exchange of ideas.  It’s the reason I write this blog.  It’s the reason I give away the pdf version of my book.  Certification places unnecessary value on information.

7. Barefoot running is about feeling, not knowing Learning information merely gives you some tools to experiment with while finding your own way.

Barefoot running is an individual activity.  Yet we tend to rely on the opinions of a relative few, myself included.  This is problematic.

We need more people to critically examine what us “experts” teach.  We need more people to seek out better methods for all of us in general and themselves in particular.  As a teacher, I LOVE when people criticize my methods or develop a better way of doing things.  I WANT people to take me on.  Any good teacher should inherently understand the value of that concept.  That’s progress.  That is what we need.

Imagine this scenario- a committee is created to create a barefoot running curriculum.  Best practices are developed.  Materials are printed.  Lots of hours of work is performed.  Lots of money is spent. Just as this project is complete, someone comes up with a better method. Changing the material would be impossible due to cost.  What does the “governing committee” do?  Based on what we know about human nature, they resist.  They squelch the new idea.  That inhibits progress.

We need to champion dissent; challenge experts.  We need to resist the centralization of information.  We need to support the democratization of ideas.

What are your thoughts?






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  1. Mark
    September 8, 2011

    What a great philosophy. It should be applied to all sports. Why bother learning something when you can try it for yourself.

    My three year old son was meant to start swimming lessons next week, but I think I should just throw him in the pool and get him to teach himself.

    We will probably lose a few three year olds following this philosophy, but imagine how good the ones who survive are going to be!!!

  2. John
    September 6, 2011

    Agree. No certification. It is one of the reasons that the Pose Method began to stagnate and pi** me off: Do it this way or it’s not “Right”. Coaches on the Pose forum began to say, “Barefoot is NOT Pose”. I agree that it’s not…it’s BETTER. Pose could never give me the freedom of experimentation that barefoot does. I don’t need drills to the nth degree. Just some hops and jump rope and I’m golden. And some road. And trail. And feet. Or Vibrams. Or Invisible Shoes. Or Hattori’s.
    Tried the Merrell BF Trail Glove. Love the shoe, but the price is a little steep. That’s OK. They’re at the Outlets in Lancaster, PA so the prices will come down.
    I think the best way to learn barefoot running is to NOT listen to someone drivel on and on about technique and stance and blah blah. How bout congregating with a few like minded individuals and just going for a run? Barefoot or minimally shod??? Pick everyone’s brain and try something. Does it hurt? Great. Keep running.

  3. kittyk
    September 6, 2011

    This is Barefoot Running UNIVERSITY. right? Are we meant to be learning stuff if we attend a University, or was my college experience uniquely about drinking beer and parties? 😉

    I can see why people WANT certification because it gives a feeling of competency – rightly or wrongly. As if what you are being taught is “Right”. I am not sure that’s the case. I have tried organising “clinics” for BRS here and what is very evident that all you can ever provide is “pointers”, but there is no hard/fast/completely right way to teach barefoot/minimalist running to someone else. Everyone has their own ideas on what is right/wrong and the majority of the information can be contradictory.

    I think teaching these skills in a “certified” way is going to lead to a quagmire later on, when there maybe multiple certification programs all teaching a similar methodology but with unique twists; determined to portray themselves better than other programs so they get the business. Not sure that’s good for anyone really.

  4. Sam Murphy
    September 6, 2011

    As someone who has done the VB certification I’d like to offer a few thoughts.
    Firstly, I think that it’s good that a minimal shoe company is offering coaches (and those who sell their shoes) the chance to learn how to help people who want to run barefoot or in minimal shoes. In so many running shops I’ve overheard staff waffling, sitting on the fence and talking outright nonsense about barefoot/minimalism so anything that helps people in the right direction is positive. So many people – the ‘born to run-ners’ have flung off their shoes over the past three years and jogged their way straight to the sports injury clinic. That’s experimentation I for one could do without – and I don’t want to screw up the experience for my coaching clients either.
    Secondly, although I already have a degree in exercise science and other run coaching qualifications, the learning environment on the 5-day course was among the most open I’ve experienced – many points were challenged, examined and discussed in great detail – so it wasn’t a ‘this is how it is’/learn by rote thing. The exam is HARD! It’s not multiple choice, and you don’t get certified until you’ve submitted videos of three runners whose form you’ve enhanced. I know you aren’t criticising the structure/content of the course itself but just think it’s worth saying that it was a hugely stimulating, enjoyable and challenging experience.
    I agree that people have different takes on what constitutes perfect form, barefoot or otherwise, but my experience of the certification is that it gives you the tools to identify what’s going wrong for an individual and help put them right. It’s not a one size fits all prescription, like any good coaching programme.

  5. Tracy Longacre
    September 6, 2011

    Not only do I agree with you, I think certification would kill the movement, both practically and in spirit. Not that I don’t think Saxby’s program is good and would love to be able to do it myself, but I’ve seen what certification does (in the yoga community) and I think both that the barefoot movement is far, far too young right now for a “tightening” of “standards” and that “certification” and “standards” are actually antithetical to the movement.

  6. Barefoot Running University » A Follow-Up on the Barefoot Running Coach Certification Issue
    September 6, 2011

    […] took some time, but I finally got the response I was looking for.  A few days ago, I addressed the issue of barefoot running coach certification. I expected a lot of people to agree, but I also expected A LOT more people to disagree.  I was […]

  7. Drew
    September 5, 2011

    I disagree.

    I think the Vivobarefoot Program is top notch, based of hard science, human anatomy, and practiced coaching principles. May want to pick up a copy of Peter Cavanaghs Biomechanics of Distance Running. He doesn’t talk much about “feeling” in there. There are numerous sources and information regarding the subject of proper running biomechanics.

    I think free-exploration and experimentation can be a good thing, but at what cost? Serious injury? Most people run improperly for dozens of years, only to take off the shoes and “feel” around. That’s alot of faulty movement pattern reinforced with repetition. Having a properly educated coach may help considerably. Or you could just take off your shoes and hope for the best…

    I look forward to the NYC Barefoot event panel hearing you go up against some top notch educators in this field.

  8. Shane
    September 4, 2011

    Totally agree on the worthlessness of the whole certification idea.

    Think about it: you are now certified to teach people how to run the way we are naturally meant to run, how cultures without supportive shoes naturally run.

    That being said, I most agree with point #7 you made. I’ve been making the most strides (ha!, terrible pun) since I took a step back, stopped sweating the small stuff, and just started *relaxing* and running.

    Seriously, everything clicked after reading the “ABCs” of barefoot running off here and the MGBG’s post “Skipping Zee Rope” post.

    To quote Bruce Lee: “Don’t think. Feeeeeeel.”

  9. HeatherW
    September 4, 2011

    I see a use for this as a way of getting people in touch with someone locally who is both willing and able to help them out. I run all over town barefoot, and while I’m probably capable of helping a new barefoot runner, I don’t have the time to serve as someone’s coach.

    I see you have an issue with “certification” and panels of experts in general. I’m not on the same page as you are; the quality of certification and curriculum guidelines reflect the quality that went into making them. The task force of experts that handles curriculum guidelines in my discipline has done a stellar job over the years, so I know that this CAN work. (

  10. Theresa
    September 4, 2011

    I agree too. Well said! Thanks.

  11. Kelly
    September 4, 2011

    Who would disagree?

  12. barefootbendywendy
    September 4, 2011

    I agree also. Barefoot running is an activity engaged in through personal experimentation. Looking to others who have experience is helpful for gleaning knowledge from their experience, tips and perhaps some anatomical understanding.

    Certifications are meant to provide regulation or standardization within some industries and to generate revenues. Certifications have become overly popular, unfortunately, in the fitness industry whereby every new piece of equipment which arrives on the market is accompanied by a certification course. Crazy.

    Thanks for the food for thought!

  13. Jason
    September 3, 2011

    There is an official body of barefoot running certifiers? Like a board of trustees to barefooting? That is rich. I agree with you. There is no one method of learning to run barefoot, just like there is no one size fits all fitness plan.

  14. Chris Moffett
    September 3, 2011

    Agreed Jason. Especially when certified expertise seems to boil down to administering a series of tasks…
    That said, when it happens, and it is happening, (the stake are too high for it not to happen, I wager) we have to have the courage to just run around it. The real “expertise,” as you show, is in knowing to keep looking, feeling, and figuring. Fortunately, going barefoot has a way of bringing us back to fundamental experiences, and gimmickry and imposed structures and titles stand out like stubbed toes…
    I kind of like that phenomenon of people adding “barefoot” to their name. Much more in the appropriate spirit than “certification.” Certifiable, more like it…

  15. James
    September 3, 2011

    I agree with you completely. After looking what is involved, it looks like a money making scheme to profit on the barefoot movement.