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A Follow-Up on the Barefoot Running Coach Certification Issue

Posted by on Sep 6, 2011 | 9 Comments

“Every rebel alliance will eventually become the empire. Dogma has a way of creeping in. “

– Michael Blanchard

It 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 surprised it took so long for somebody to disagree with my opinions.  After all, it directly challenges the idea of meritocracy in our society.

We love our experts.  Even more, we love our science.  Drew posted the exact response I was waiting for.  Thanks Drew!  This was the comment:

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.

The Vivobarefoot program he references is led by Lee Saxby.  I’m very familiar with Saxby’s credentials, methods, and the program itself.  It is top-notch.  If there were a perfect barefoot running coach program, this is it.  It is infinitely better than the jokes that are the RRCA and USATF running coaching programs, and more thorough than both Pose and ChiRunning (Note- I really like both Pose and Chi… I just think Lee’s program is better.)  As an added bonus, Saxby is working with Terra Plana.  I know these cats; they’re serious about barefoot running.  They are one of the VERY few companies that REALLY gets it.  I like them.

Here’s the problem.  Based on the tone of Drew’s response, he probably has went through or is considering going through the program.  Like most people that go through such a program, they lose a bit of that skeptical edge when they come out the other side.  They believe they’ve found the way.  Worse, they believe they found the way because of “hard science.”  We have a tendency to put tremendous faith in science.

Why is that bad?

There’s still A LOT of medical professionals out there defending the use of overstriding with a heavy heel strike because it’s based on science.  Odds are, you probably think that’s as big a load of bullshit as I do.  But they believe it.  They believe it because they have lost the ability to question their own beliefs.  They are such strong believers in their position, they cannot fathom another paradigm.

Let’s apply this same idea to the BFR coaching certification.  Can we be absolutely certain that any BFR certification is 100% correct?  Are we willing to put ALL our eggs in that one basket? What happens when contradictory research comes out down the road?  Will we be open to that?  Probably not, especially if it is rejected by our certification method.

My point is simple- losing skeptical objectivity is just plain stupid.  History has taught us this lesson again and again.  What we determine as infallible fact today is laughed at twenty years down the road.  Gnomes used to cause belly aches.  Bumps on your head could be used to determine personality.  Smoking was good for your lungs.  A diet high in whole grains led to exemplary health.  See where this is going?

Could barefoot running coaching certification be more realistic down the road?  Maybe.  Until then, let’s hold off a bit.  Let’s allow communities to develop, grow, experiment, and discuss.  There are wonderful things happening among the members of the Runner’s World Barefoot Running Forum, the Barefoot Runners’ Society, Barefoot Ted’s Huaraches Group, Birthdayshoes, and the other online communities.  Groups like The Natural Running Center combine the best of the research world with the practical application of barefoot running, education, and theory. Haven’t we learned the value of open communication versus the limited voice of a few ordained “experts?”  Isn’t that supposed to be the true value of the Interwebs?

I will always trust the collective experiences of tens of thousands of passionate people from a wide variety of backgrounds over a handful of experts with meaningless credentials.  Over the years, I’ve met an awful lot of average people like me with some pretty revolutionary ideas.  Doing anything to silence the masses is a travesty.

I think the ideas and theories of barefoot running are the correct theories.  I buy into them.  I use them.  I teach them.  However, I’m not too naive to dismiss the fact that all of us could be wrong.  Anyone that touts the power of science should be well aware of the necessity of skepticism and independent thought.

Certifications lead to homogenized thought and the dismissal of competing theories.

Open community dialogue leads to the development of sound theories and progress.

We need less of the former and more of the latter.

Oh, and Drew’s last comment regarding the NYC panel- that’s why I don’t like the idea of certification. It encourages competition and “my way is the best way” thinking. It’s not about me “going up against” anyone.  It’s about all of us coming together to share ideas to gain a greater understanding of the ideas behind barefoot running.

Community = Progress.


PS– I stand by all the points in my original post.  Now I have to get back to writing about more serious topics like ‘Preparing for the Zombie Apocalypse Part Two: Encouraging the Zombies to Wear Hokas.’




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  1. ian sparta
    September 11, 2011

    as someone who sees a lot of people get injured by running I get asked a lot of questions on it. Its suprising the amount of crap coaches sprout to feed their own ego. A coaches job is to get resultd for the client not make themselves feel important.

    I have been on many running courses to gain knowledge to help my clients. Spent a lot of money on them.Some are rubbish, some get no positive results at all and some are good. How do i judge….by results with my clients. Lees course was very good and i was a skeptic. I am involved in a running project for the homeless. I think it is my moral duty as a coach to get as much information as possible to help the people i see. Not send people off to “feel” and pray they dont get injured. Lees course more than any other explained barefoot running and helped me coach running. The company also given the club a nice touch with free shoes to motivate the guys.

    The name “vivobarefoot coach is shit and should be got rid of. It takes away from the knowledge learnt on the course and the coaching experience lee is happy to share with you. That aside its a great course! People who dislike courses generally dont go on them……and even some people who go on them have limited coaching experience/ skills so the effectiveness of the knowledge learnt maybe diluted. So lets all keep learning!

  2. corey
    September 11, 2011

    Science is a way of skeptically interrogating the universe Jason. Your opinions are next to worthless if they aren’t backed up with verifiable data. By all means have an open mind, and try new things, but you know what the next step is: actually making sure the things you believe in are real.To many people rely on feel over evidence as it stands, let’s not encourage more of that nonsense.

    • louis
      September 11, 2011

      i’ll echo corey’s statement and add something to it: science isn’t about dogma, it’s about the repeatable testing of claims. it is also dependent on community and peer reviewing of research and data. the conception of science as some power-hungry, newer authority that attempts to bully non-believers (like the catholic church did centuries ago) into falling in line is false.

      science is not religion. it isn’t about having one unverifiable truth in order to make money or gain power. that’s what makes science fall within the realm of skepticism: claims are testable and reviewed. if they are shown to be inadequate, they are dismissed. no one in science clings to disproved claims.

      i think the argument against certification gets most support from how certification works in many fields: it is indeed a tool to make money and to “validate” members so they can, in turn, make more money themselves. as such, i think the best strategy for runners is the using of verifiable research and the sharing of testable knowledge (which is, generally, what you’re saying as i read it).

  3. Richard
    September 8, 2011

    I agree with you, Jason.

    I’m not trying to sound disrespectful to TP or anybody else, but I can’t shake the sound of cash registers ringing in my ears when I read things like “based of hard science, human anatomy, and practiced coaching principles” and “proper running biomechanics”. There is a guy in Japan who teaches people how to walk ‘properly’, for goodness sake.

    I don’t like the belief that we’re all broken and only people with a certain certificate can save us. I like people like Jason, who don’t stick to something dogmatically even when there is overwhelming evidence to the contrary. As he says, this is how things progress.

    I don’t want to have a go at Drew because he sounds like a smart guy and I’m sure he’s also a very nice guy. I am, however, always wary of people who say things like “I’ve nothing against [insert prejudice], but…[insert rant]”.

    (Rant over – sorry.)

  4. ChadisBarefoot
    September 6, 2011

    Drew sounds like a perfect case of the Dunning-Kruger effect. You taught psychology, right?

  5. Paul
    September 6, 2011

    You know Jason I really can see both sides of the coin in this issue. I think certification may allow for more credibility for running barefoot. While on the other hand I can see the danger in it becoming too dogmatic. I think it’s important for any coach or athlete to be open minded about any new training techniques, and theories. For example I was VERY skeptical of barefoot running, and having 19 years of running and coaching myself thought I was well informed. After trying it myself and studying it myself (the theortical, and antidotal studies), I realized that running this way can really work. Of course we need the experimental data to support a genuine coaching change in the field of running, we don’t even have this much for shod running. We simply don’t know if shod running is better than barefoot running and interestingly we already have organizations and coaches in that field.

  6. Chris Moffett
    September 6, 2011

    I’m not even so sure its about being willing to question the validity of things in the abstract, as if we *may* be wrong. There are many things that we, right now, are not so on top of.
    I think you hit the nail on the head when you question the distinction between hard science and “feel.” As if they were at odds. Part of the challenge that I see, is that for all of that Vivo Barefoot and Saxby have blazoned “proprioception” over their efforts, I can’t seem to find a rigorous engagement with it in their method. What I see is a lot of “science as marketing.”
    Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been wearing Vivo’s since back in the day when they had zippers on the soles. But to be honest, I miss those old shoes. For all of their growth as a company, they have yet to improve on, or even match, the feel of those early models. And I worry that this is a real blindspot for them. It shows up in their shoes and in their coaching. And as you pointed out earlier, it is hard to adjust when you get committed to a particular approach.
    All the more reason for those who are free to be more agile to continue exploring: to make sure we keep on our toes.

  7. Scott
    September 6, 2011

    Not a big fan of “BFR” certifications. There are plenty of educated exercise scientists with a strong base in biomechanics that are teaching individuals how to run well everyday. Most of this stuff needs to be dumbed down not over-complicated. Maybe I just need to see more on this.

  8. Jordan
    September 6, 2011

    It does need to happen. There are talks within IRRA to develop an actual run specialty shop gait analysis certification process to develop staff into certified “shoe fitters”. This is supposedly being doing in conjunction with the Gait Guys. Yes that’s valuable to the people who follow that sort of dumb thing but on the flip side, why is no one else outside of Newton Running providing a natural/BFR coaching certification (especially one that doesn’t cost $600 to get)?

    The step I’ve taken at the shop I work for is that when a customer asks what it is all about I share what I can in the time available to both of us, then extend to them my work email that if they want to discuss BFR further, to contact me anytime. Its a small step but one that until something is official, BFR RSS staff could utilize.