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When Learning to Run With Better Form, Should We Automatically Start Slow?

Posted by on Nov 14, 2012 | 19 Comments

What is the ideal pace start when teaching running form? For years, many of us have taught people to start at a very slow pace, then eventually speed up. The logic was simple- this helped prevent injuries. Running faster puts more stress on your body.

There’s a problem with this generic advice, however.

Many people find it more comfortable to run at a faster pace. By forcing them to slow down, we’re taking them out of their comfort zone, which makes the learning process even more difficult.

I’ve commented before that mot people run with near-perfect form when sprinting. If we can use that as our “teaching baseline” to get the student to feel what better form feels like, we can then work on generalizing those elements of better form to slower speeds.

Of course this will require added caution. The likelihood of getting injured while sprinting versus jogging at a 14:00/mile pace is probably higher due to the greater forces involved. Still, taking a conservative approach should mitigate the risk.

What do you think? When teaching better form, should we assess what pace the student feels most comfortable, then use that as a starting point? Or should we continue to teach form when running slow and attempt to generalize better form to faster paces?

Leave your thoughts in the comments section!


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  1. Allan
    November 19, 2012

    Running faster doesn’t imply sprinting. To me that just means running at or perhaps slightly faster than VO2max. In Daniel’s terminology this is R pace and in his book this pace is specifically for teaching better running economy. So I think don’t think that this is a new idea and is something that most good training programs incorporate.

  2. Hank
    November 15, 2012

    I reckon its an individual matter.

    At the beginning of the year I injured my right hamstring. (I tripped during a run and tried to save it.) It nagged me for quite some time and I ended up resting it for two months before it felt better. After resuming my running I noticed I was getting a hot spot on my right sole after only a mile so I knew my form wasn’t right. Regardless of how much I paid attention, or thought I paid attention, to my form I kept getting that hotspot. That lasted a month. Then I tried slowing down. For some reason that helped me pinpoint what I was doing wrong. I thought I was lifting my root but I was actually pushing off because I was still favoring that hamstring. even though it was okay. For a week or two I started all my runs slow and focused on my form. After a couple of miles I picked up the pace making sure I stayed on the mark. Now I’m back up to speed.

    When I return to barefoot after running in my Vibrams, I’ll notice I need to start slow and resync again. I tend to push off just a little in the Vibrams because they let me get away with it.

  3. Ben W
    November 14, 2012

    I’m still a newbie, but maybe an intermediate newbie. But when I first started out, I experienced my form coming together easier at faster speeds (10 minute miles) vs slower speeds (15 minute miles).

    Despite that experience I avoided going faster due to the to much too soon warnings.

    While my fast pace is slow for experienced runners, it “feels” like sprinting to me, and yet there seemed to be less impact than my normal slow pace. I felt like I was just gliding. It was awesome.

    I think Jason is on to something, but that’s just me.

  4. Damian Stoy
    November 14, 2012

    Any thoughts on speed being a by product of good technique?

    • Jason
      November 14, 2012

      More efficient form will result in greater speed, though “efficient” can be defined in different ways.

      Regarding the article- I think it’s pretty much on generally speaking… except for the gravity thing. 😉

  5. Damian Stoy
    November 14, 2012

    Jason, great points! I think I’ve given up on thinking about if there is a right way to walk or run. Or even the physics behind it. I’d rather spend my energy on what I know benefits myself and others.

    -If something feels easier, it may be easier.
    -If I can reduce wasted movement and energy it is more efficient. Specifically up and down movement (very common and a complete waste of energy) which is easily reduced in how I teach.
    -Relaxation usually helps everything

  6. Bare Lee
    November 14, 2012

    Hey, did you lift this idea from me, or me from you? 🙂

    Just to clarify, in my post earlier on BRS, I was thinking more along the lines of Miranda. Not sprinting, but running fast enough to feel one’s form come together without much effort, even if this means running shorter distances or adopting some version of Galloway’s Run-Walk method. For me, the threshold is right around 9mm pace. Above that and I have to think about form a bit, below that and it comes fairly effortlessly.

    I don’t think running a moderate pace like this would be too risky for beginners. In fact, by encouraging good form, a somewhat faster pace might help prevent injuries. Also, studies among more elite runners have shown that training volume, and not velocity, is the best predictor of injury risk, so having beginners or average recreational runners like me running less but somewhat faster might actually be safer.

  7. Damian Stoy
    November 14, 2012

    I’ve heard this argument before and I’m not sure if I agree that runners run with near-perfect form when sprinting. How about the term “speed kills”?

    I believe there is this false assumption because it is much harder to analyze a sprinters form because they are moving faster. It takes a very keen eye to see any inefficiencies. Video analysis and slow-motion are key.

    The biggest mistake I see in sprinters is tension, lack of spinal rotation and ‘power running’. Using too much energy to go fast versus gravity, recoil and relaxation.

  8. Dave
    November 14, 2012

    If you are a newby barefooter, I think you will go slow no matter what due to sensitivity of the soles of your feet, especially if you’re on a rough surface (e.g. chip seal).

    The problem with teaching through sprinting is that it utilizes a strong forefoot or toe strike, and thus too much stress on your achilles. However, you could use a few striders while warming up to help set up the feeling of good form in your head, and then go out for a longer slower run.

  9. jeff
    November 14, 2012

    I recently started a training program that involves running at prescribed paces. I found the slower paces (used in warm-up and cool-down sections, which are slower than I’d ever normally run) the most challenging. For quite a while, no matter what I tried, everything just felt wrong.

    So yes, I agree, the body has a better instinctive idea what to do at a faster pace. However, I’m not certain that the same form that is correct at a sprint is also correct at a slow jog. It may be very similar — just not identical.

  10. MIranda
    November 14, 2012

    Currently dealing with some issues related to this, as I’m involved in some running clinics for the first time ever — in a group milieu. We’re being asked to work on form issues at a walking pace, and I just can’t seem to make sense of it that way. It’s almost as if we’re being asked to learn positions, rather than movements. At a 7-9 min pace my form at the hips is apparently lovely. At a walking/stepping pace with the group I cannot do what I’m being asked to do and I feel like a total spazz. If I couldn’t already run nicely at my preferred pace, or if I didn’t know I could already do so, I’d be so frustrated and so confused. For now I’m still trying to do it all at a walk, but it seems rather pointless.

    • Jason
      November 14, 2012

      Walking and running are fundamentally different biomechanically. I seriously question the validity of learning to run via walking. I recommend walking when learning barefoot as a means of teaching the brain to analyze and desensitize to feeling under foot, but it IS pointless to try to teach running form with walking.

      • Damian Stoy
        November 14, 2012

        Correct, running and walking are completely differet biomechanically. But, o teach anything in life, you have to go back to basics and slow it down.

        Walking allows a runner to really feel how the body is moving. To body sense what is going on. Every sport teaches fundamentals and techniques by using movements totally unrelated to the sport.

        • Jason
          November 14, 2012

          Teaching body awareness would be a good use of walking, but would do nothing to actually teach form. In fact, associating walking and running form is the reason most people run with bad form (heavy heel strike with severe overstriding). Their runnign gait is nothing more than walking gait sped up.

          It would be sort of like teaching a baseball pitcher to pitch using softball pitching mechanics… it just doesn’t make sense.

          • Damian Stoy
            November 14, 2012

            As different as they are, they have some similar biomechanics. I find it’s a useful tool.

            Also, one of my main goals as a running coach is to reduce injuries. Most people walk way more then they run. Teaching people how to walk is essential. How can you expect them to be injury free when they walk inefficiently?
            By continuing to walk in a high impact way, sometimes injuries never heal (plantar fasciitis, knee pain). Once efficient walking technique is taught, the healing process can speed up.

          • Jason
            November 14, 2012

            But there’s even less data on coreect walking than there is on correct running. From a physiological perspective, it’s pretty clear our bodies are designed to run in a particular way. Walking is different… we can walk in a variety of ways without injury issues. For example, there’s convincing evidence our body is designed to walk heel-toe.

            To teach proper walking, we have to apply the same questions we do to running, starting with ‘Is there a right way to walk?”

      • MIranda
        November 14, 2012

        Well, to give the coach credit, she’s trying to help a few members of the group avoid their tendency to swagger and use mostly their quads to run, so she’s trying to loosen up their axial skeleton and develop in them some spinal rotation — the walking exercises are kind of like dynamic stretches I guess. She’s not trying to teach *everything* about running through walking exercises. But these exercises did dominate our last session.

    • jhuff
      November 14, 2012


      What technique method are you following at these clinics? In the Pose Method technique walking and running are viewed as very very similar from a technique stand point though there are indeed biomechanical differences. Some of those technique similarities included: posture, release of posture and recovery of the foot/leg. The element of greatest difference is lack of airborne phase in walking which necessitates a slight rearfoot landing vs a ball of the forefoot landing of running.

  11. Ari
    November 14, 2012

    My suggstion is to not thinking too much about speed, but form. Dont start running in a new way concerned not to fill up youre running quota mile-vice.