There aren’t too many people that disagree there is such thing as “good running form.” Most of these people would also agree “good form” consists of a few variables, such as good posture, shorter stride, higher cadence, and relaxed, fluid movements.
It’s obvious not everyone does this. In fact, most people (talking to you road runners) still run with a slow, loping gait with the foot landing way in front of the body and a heavy heel strike. There’s a growing consensus this poor running form causes a litany of problems, including an increase in injuries, decrease in efficiency, and a dependency on heavy, cushioned trainers that absorb impact and correct abnormal movements.
Teaching better form is quite simple as we’ve shown with our BareForm system. We (Merrell and I) broke good form down to three simple elements- an athletic posture, balanced foot landing, and cadence of at least 180. Since we developed the concept, we’ve used it to teach thousands to run with better form, usually in a matter of minutes.
These subtle changes and gentle guidance have the power to make a dramatic difference in people’s lives. Long-time runners with a history of injuries find they’re able to run practically injury-free. People that were largely inactive find they actually enjoy physical movement. People are learning to run longer distances and at a faster pace. When done correctly, there is no real downside to teaching better running form.
Of course, there is one significant obstacle- transition time. The transition from one running form to another taxes different muscles, tendons, and ligaments. All require a degree of strengthening and adaptation,especially if the better form is accompanied by a move to more minimal shoes or barefoot.
I equate it to breaking your arm. If you wear a cast for eight weeks, your arm becomes weak. Once the cast is removed, you have to go through a period of rehabilitation to regain functional use. The same concept applies here- anychange requires an adaptation period.
So Who Can Teach Better Form?
Back to the original question- who should be responsible for teaching better form? Currently, there’s A LOT of people and organizations teaching better form. Still, the reach of these people is limited to a small fraction of all runners. In an ideal world, everyone related to the running industry would teach better form. This doesn’t happen for a variety of reasons. Let’s take a look at these people and institutions:
I have never met a running coach that believes overstriding with a heel strike is good. In fact, many coaches I know DO teach better form as part of their overall intervention. However, there are a lot of coaches that do not teach better form, especially middle school and high school coaches. There seems to be a belief that changing form will somehow negatively affect performance or health, even though any objective measure says otherwise. As coaches, teaching proper technique should be a major concern. Imagine a golf coach not teaching the elements of a good swing, a baseball coach not teaching the proper footwork to turn a double play, or a football coach not teaching proper tackling technique.
My take: If you’re coaching runners, you have a responsibility to teach better running form. It’s that simple.
Running stores are an interesting case. Some, like the minimalist-only stores, teach better form as a part of the sales process. Other stores, like Running Fit and Playmakers, offer classes and clinics to teach better running form. Unfortunately these stores are more of the exception than the rule. Many running stores still buy into the old paradigm based on the idea that people run how they run and shoes should correct the flaws in their form. Even though the store employees may understand the elements of better form, there’s a hesitancy to teach.
My take: Most stores are in a difficult position. If they push better form too much, they risk losing sales. For a small business, this can be fatal. As much as I would love to see every running store in the country teach the basic elements of better form to every singe customer, it’s not going to happen. Yet. As the ideas of better form disseminate throughout the running world, this will likely change. Running stores will continue to be in the later majority, though.
Running clubs exist pretty much everywhere. In most cases, running clubs serve as more of a social network than a means of spreading ideas. Still, the social nature of running clubs is an ideal format to disseminate the idea of better form in a casual setting. The very nature of “better form” is usually spread organically. One person tries it, has success, and tells their friends. Curious about the benefits, the friends also try it. They have success, then spread the idea to their friends. And so on. Running clubs could be an excellent network to spread these ideas, especially if the club held an occasional “workshop” to give members an opportunity to learn from each other.
My take: Running clubs can be excellent venues to discuss and teach better running form, but it takes the right mix of individuals. The idea that there could be a right way to run seems to be taboo in many circles, which can create an unfortunate roadblock to discussion. As the idea of better form spreads, discussions will become more welcome.
Good Form Advocates
This includes people like myself, the ChiRunning and Pose folks, and all the other authors, bloggers, researchers, and forum participants that actively teach better running form. This group is doing the legwork of developing these ideas and working to spread them to the general running population. This group is absolutely critical. The down side- they have limited reach. In almost every case, people have to seek them out to gain the benefits of their teachings.
My take: For the most part, this group is already doing what they can to spread the ideas. Many could benefit from more collaboration, which includes accepting that their particular take on better form may not be the best for everyone. Collaboration requires acceptance of other ideas. Luckily this appears to be happening. A good example is the Natural Running Center- lots of talented people coming together to share knowledge.
Open up any specialized sport magazine geared toward participants. What do you see? Tons of articles discussing technique. In fact, this is a staple of golf magazines.
Open up a running magazine. What do you see? Pictures of shoes. Or clothes. Or articles discussing training plans.
It’s rare to see an article discussing running form. This is SLOWLY changing, but not fast enough. There’s a focus on how to train, but not how to run. Again, it’s a taboo topic. I would LOVE to see articles about actual running technique. In fact, I’d volunteer to write said articles (hear that Runners World, Running Times, and Trail Runner?)
My take: Running magazines have the power to shape the entire industry, including teaching about better form. One well-placed article could cause a dramatic change in the lives of many runners… if only one magazine made running gait an issue.
Three years ago, I would never have expected shoe manufacturers to get into the teaching game. Oh, how the times have changed! Aside from Merrell, many manufacturers are beginning to develop better running form resources. Newton, New Balance, VivoBarefoot, Saucony, Sketchers, and Vibram are all at various stages of developing education programs. Many others are exploring the possibility. This represents the single biggest change in the industry as the manufacturers have the power to influence both the consumer and the retailers.
My take: I love what the previously-mentioned companies are doing. I’d love to see more companies embrace this idea. Their involvement could dramatically change the paradigm from “shoes will fix your problems” to “good form will fix your problems and shoes are tools that provide protection.”
Like the shoe manufacturers, I would never have expected medical professionals to embrace the idea of better form. A few years ago, it was common to read some podiatrist dismiss the ideas of better form and recommend an aggressive orthotic to solve problems. Today, more and more are recommending a change in running form as a first means of treating weakness and injury. It’s a monumental shift from corrective medicine to preventative medicine, and I couldn’t be happier.
My take: Medical professionals don’t have nearly the reach as the other groups, but they DO have access to the most important group- injured runners. They have the ability to teach these runners about better form, which is critical as they are the group that is most in need.
These are a few groups that have the power to spread the idea of better running form. If each group stepped up their efforts just a little bit, the impact could be dramatic.
What do you think? Do you agree with my assessment? How do you feel about each of these groups and their role in teaching better form?