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So You Want to be a Barefoot Running Coach?

Posted by on Jun 7, 2012 | 9 Comments

This post is an offshoot of this thread on the Barefoot Runners Society forum. This post made me revisit my thoughts on barefoot coaching, a topic that has been a tad controversial.

For those that may be interested, here are a few things that may help you along the way:

  • Develop a basic understanding of the biomechanical principles of exercise. This doesn’t necessarily require an education in anatomy and physiology, but some knowledge is needed. Google and the Internet will serve you well.
  • Develop a thorough understanding of the elements of better running form as described from a wide variety of different sources. As of right now, there is no consensus on “the right way to run.” The best approach is to study a variety of methodologies. I recommend ChiRunning, Pose, Good Form Running, and Evolution Running. Each one has pros and cons, all of which you should understand. These three schools take different routes to the same basic goal, but use dramatically different teaching methods, analogies, and learning cues. Think of each one as adding tools to your coaching toolbox. I also recommend reading “Tread Lightly” by Peter Larson and Bill Katovsky. This will help you understand running form from a skeptical, scientific point of view and free you from the dogma of each of these methods. Also start reading Barefoot Ted’s Google group.
  • Develop a thorough understanding of barefoot running. This should be achieved through experience and interaction with other barefoot runners. Know common injuries and what they tell you about form, how to individualize transition plans, and be able to relay information about when and where barefoot running is appropriate. Read books by experienced barefoot runners. I suggest Ken Bob Saxton’s, Michael Sandler’s, and my own book as a good primer. Read posts on the Barefoot Runners Society forum.
  • Develop your ability to teach. You may be an encyclopedia of running form information, but the information is worthless if you cannot effectively relay the information to your clients. Develop the ability to distill complex ideas into simple teaching points using analogies and stories. The goal isn’t to impress people with your knowledge. The goal is to help your clients run better. Understanding human behavior helps immensely. I recommend Elliot Aronson’s “Social Animal” (old edition is just as good and a fraction of the cost) and John Wooden’s “Wooden: A Lifetime of Observations and Reflections On and Off the Court.”
  • Develop the ability to look at unusual problems from different perspectives to find unorthodox solutions. Really good coaches are able to treat their clients as individuals, which requires the ability to synthesize information and find out-of-the-box solutions. I recommend reading Chris Guillebeau’s “The Art of Non-Conformity.”
  • Don’t fall in love with any single idea. There are many means to the same end- better running form. Don’t dismiss any ideas without thorough examination and experimentation. Likewise, don’t buy into one single system or idea. Always remain a bit open-minded and skeptical.

The Certification Issue

My long-time readers may recall my rants against the barefoot running coach certifications (or any certs for that matter.) I still stand by those opinions. I firmly believe certifications are unnecessary at best and flat out destructive at worst. They inhibit the free sharing of information about a topic that’s in its infancy. They promote the idea that any one single idea or concept is superior at the exclusion of other ideas or concepts. That’s just bad teaching.

They CAN be useful in one situation, however.

If you collect multiple certifications from different schools of thought, the information gained can be invaluable. Certifications only become problematic when future coaches only earn a single cert, then begin teaching it as if it is the only approach. Clearly no one method is the answer for all, and any good coach will recognize that. A variety of approaches allows a coach to individualize their instruction based on the specific needs of their client.


We need more coaches. We need people that have a passion to help people. If you have any interest, I urge you to consider coaching. Helping someone become physically active is an immensely rewarding experience. My suggestions here aren’t meant to be a “you need this” post, rather a suggestion for some guidance to gain some important coaching skills.

Who’s considering becoming a coach? Is there anything you’d add to my list above?


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  1. Nathan
    June 9, 2012

    Read my blog on starting to run barefoot. I hope that you enjoy it!!!

  2. Angie bee
    June 7, 2012

    Absolutely don’t fall in love with one single idea. Be flexible and let your mind move as smooth as your running form should.

    I love the information I learned from my certification but it’s not all there is to know. I ran barefoot marathons before I learned Lee Saxbys way of running and I did great. I just grew laterally instead of linearly with the cert but the growing part is the important bit.

    One way may make perfect sense but won’t be applicable for everyone. My husband is a super successful heel striking barefoot runner. seriously. He can run 25 miles and land heel first with every step. Most people would say his form is shit, but it works for him.

    With every running form there are trade offs of efficiency and self preservation. The art is to balance those well.

  3. Shane D.
    June 7, 2012

    I have been running barefoot since ’07 and would love to coach. Part of the problem is people always ask “What are your credentials or accreditations?” They always assume you are going to pop out a certificate that says “Barefoot Running Coach”. The one thing I would add is have fun and make it fun. If your having fun, everyone will have fun and the experience will be that much more memorable!

  4. Pete Kemme
    June 7, 2012

    Barefoot Running University….hmmmm….with a name like that, you would almost expect a degree (or certification) offered. 🙂

    • Dave Goulette
      June 7, 2012

      Good point Pete! Jason, how can somebody apply for a tenure track position to your university?

      • Bare Lee
        June 7, 2012

        I think we commentators are the adjunct faculty.

  5. Dawsy
    June 7, 2012

    I thought this article was uniquely well-timed! Thanks for the extra info, and the original book list/suggestions.

    I’m going to tack anatomy & physiology to the list. I’ve recently finished The Runner’s Body, which was very insightful.

  6. Bare Lee
    June 7, 2012

    Great post Jason! Just one addition: Steve Magness’s Science of Running site.

    • Bare Lee
      June 7, 2012

      Steve has a vast knowledge of both the science of running as well as the history and theory of different training/coaching philosophies.