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Running Coaches That Don’t Teach Running Form Are Not Coaches. They Are Managers.

Posted by on Apr 20, 2012 | 12 Comments

The coaching of good running form has fallen out of favor for many running coaches, especially at the sub-collegiate level.  Years ago, it was commonplace for a running coach to teach the elements of good form- good posture, quick turnover, etc.  With the proliferation of fitness research, good form fell out of favor.  Coaches instead focused on building speed through increasing Vo2 max, optimizing training runs, diet, periodization, and other familiar concepts.

Unfortunately this move has resulted in a lot of runners with good fitness… but terrible form.

The smart coaches (or successful coaches) never stopped coaching good form as they realized it was an important prerequisite to maximizing performance.  The rest of the coaches let runners run however they ran and instead focused on building fitness.

I’m challenging running coaches to take their athletes to the next level by combining the science of building fitness with the age-old idea of good running form.  The idea is simple:

Step one: Teach your athletes good form.

Step two: Once good form is mastered, optimize fitness.

Running coaches need to teach running form.  It’s that simple.  If you are a coach and you do not teach good form, you should not be coaching.

What are your thoughts?  Why do you think the teaching of running form has fallen out of favor?  Does it seem like a good idea?


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  1. Paul
    April 26, 2012

    Morning all,

    Perhaps some of you runners could provide some thoughts on interval training with minimalist footwear.

    Essentially, I am keen to work out how I maintain good form or tweak it from the distance form.

    This may be a question for all you sprinters.

    I’ve been using my sandals to run short distances (around 3k), in general I use 5 fingers or vivobarefoot aquas to run distance.

    I’ve started incorporating interval training into my workouts, an interval run at 80/85% of sprint speed to build up my lung capacity and anaerobic efficiency.

    I moved to minimalist running to avoid knee injuries, I’ve not had any pain whatsoever from running in sandals, 5 fingers or my vivos since I made the move.

    I’ve been very aware of my form and have researched and tried many methods and feel i have good general running form (i.e. my knees are perfect and I have zero pain running distance.)

    However, I do find the day after running intervals my knees hurt in the way they used to (the tendons on my knees). I’ve been really aware of my form while doing the intervals, but still find I pay.
    Any thoughts on where I could be going wrong? I’ve never been a good at sprinting from a standing start, but have always had a good sprint at the end of a distance race.

    I agree it’s a little difficult to assess my sprint without seeing it, but things I do have to hand:

    1) age – 32
    2) surface – pavement

    I think that my sprint style is more akin to doing distance form with my legs moving faster….

    Essentially, I’m running a circuit (the roads surrounding my gym) that lasts for around 2 mins 10, with a two minute break. So i suppose I am doing a high intensity run, rather than a sprint persay. So I run pretty upright for those two minutes, I keep thinking that maybe i’m unconsiously over striding or landing on my heels.

    Anything I should be mindful of, or should I break my sprint down to it’s component parts?

  2. Brian Rhodes
    April 21, 2012

    8 coaches, 4 countries, 25 years. I was the guy with the long, loping stride and a four-minute mile. Right… someone in 1967 should have taken me aside and said, “Mechanics, my boy, are key, and you’re doing it all wrong! So let’s fix it.” But, during all those torn calves and an achilles operation, I was never taught form. Nowadays, that’s all I coach. The irony(??) is my wife’s perfect form has kept her going for 25 years with only one hip injury! She’s into Newtons now but is going to try Vibrams and Skoras next. We’re having fun with this minimalist stuff, but I kinda wasted a track career and 25 years.

  3. Richard
    April 21, 2012

    Coincidentally, I was talking to a friend the other day who was complaining about completely the opposite thing: his last couple of coaches did nothing but talk about form. He’s having trouble finding a coach that works on everything.

    I agree, Jason, such people shouldn’t be coaching.

  4. Rob
    April 20, 2012

    Was sidelined by shin splints and knee pain until a friend encouraged me to try barefoot running, which at the end of the day is about form. I’m running again…over a year with no pain…and loving it. Wish I had been coached in high school about running form…I could have avoided a lot of injury and a negative attitude about running.

  5. Ken S.
    April 20, 2012

    I’ve said before, and I’ll say it again. Running is the only sport I know of in which someone can know nothing about technique, and still call him or herself a coach. This needs to change.

  6. Shane D.
    April 20, 2012

    I was fortunate enough to have a running coach who taught running form and me being a barefoot runner now probably has a lot to do with this. Unfortunately I dont see this nowadays and it reflects in so many runners I see out and about and in local races.

  7. Curt
    April 20, 2012

    Even during the 60’s and 70’s the coaches never told us how to run – only how far, how fast, how often. Sure there have always been exceptions, but technique was usually reserved for the hurdlers and sprinters more so than the middle and long distance runners (look at Prefontaine, for example).

    The good news is that McDougall’s book and blogs and forums like this one have sparked a new awareness about running technique. These sources have been far more useful and important to me than any direct coaching I’ve ever received.

  8. Paul
    April 20, 2012

    I can attest to the accuracy of this article (at least in my case) coming from two years of shin splints in high school. After that I didn’t run for several years until I read about barefoot…now I’m back in the saddle and loving it! Of course there have been a few typical pains of strengthening weak muscles, but I have no injuries to speak of. I certainly don’t have shin splints due to a forced improvement of my gate thanks to a lack of thickly cushioned shoes and some education on form. It really is too bad some coaches are nothing more than managers…I missed out on several years of running due to that poor experience.

  9. Bare Lee
    April 20, 2012

    I have nothing to add, but this post is a nice coincidence, as yesterday I spent a good part of my run trying to improve my form. It’s the first time I’ve taken running form seriously, although I’ve been meaning to get around to that for several months, ever since I started tuning into these forums/blogs.

    Specifically, I focused on driving the knee forward, as in Cucuzella’s video. I found this upped my cadence and speed, which pushed me past a comfortable aerobic zone after a few minutes, but the feeling was pretty good. Worth getting right I’d say. Technique is the basis for everything else, in any sport, and teaching it is at least half of what coaching is all about.

    It’s hard to believe running coaches aren’t teaching form anymore though. Where did you get that info from?

    • Jason
      April 20, 2012

      BL- as we’ve traveled around the country, I’ve had the opportunity to talk to a lot of coaches and running stores that support coaches and running programs. Unless someone specifically coaches form (Pose, Chi, barefoot, etc.) or coaches at the collegiate or higher level, running form is largely ignored. The problem is definitely worse at the middle and high school level.

      • Bare Lee
        April 20, 2012

        Hmmn, I suppose we tend to think of good running form as something that comes naturally–I know I did–but it’s amazing some coaches haven’t disabused themselves of this folk notion. I was amazed yesterday at how much smoother I ran using Dr. Mark’s tip.

      • Sheel K
        April 20, 2012

        I have to agree with you there Jason. I’m a freshman in high school who tried track in the 7th and 8th grade. I ran in sandals in summer for fun and I didn’t know about the form thing… I only lasted 2 weeks the first year and maybe close to 3 weeks the second year while wearing cheap nikes.

        Most kids on our track team know from experience about injury (my friend pulled his hamstrings). I remember one teacher telling me to get cushioned shoes (I tjhink he chi runs now!??!)

        There are kids exploring the barefoot vibe themselves, but most of the teachers are sort of blind to the whole concept. All they know of is about vibramfivefingers.I decided to run off on my own after I found out about barefoot form, and I had it down since I ran in sandals as a kid.

        I have no plans to do school running anymore. The whole vibe is too egoistic for me. Solo runs with huaraches are the best for me