Learn Midfoot Strike in 20 minutes!

I've written 2 other blogs on the topics of running form and shoes, so this blog is dedicated to giving runners confidence that they can learn how to run with proper midfoot strike in as little as 20 minutes.  Whether or not it sticks on successive runs has mixed results.  However, I've been coaching running form for many years and have found that I can usually get heel strikers into a midfoot strike (that sticks) in ~20 minutes, with the average time taking about 35 minutes (yes, I have started checking my watch to note the time it takes for them to get my stamp of approval).

Not every runner gets it down pat in the first Running 101 session, but typically by the end of 60 minutes, 9 out of 10 runners are "cured" of their heel striking.  I say that the success of future runs is mixed because it depends on the runner's willingness to temporarily reduce his/her run volume in order to have higher quality run sessions and accelerate the learning curve.  You cannot, in my opinion, carry the new running form a high-volume running routine without regressing into old habits or making new injuries a likelihood.

I admit that the more athletic runners will have quicker success and are more apt to get the midfoot strike to stick.  And by "athletic" I mean having hand-eye coordination and/or some background in another team/ball sport.  This finding is true because in remedying someone's mechanics, there has to be a degree of treatment acceptability, for which athletes typically have past experience learning new skills (mechanics) and/or picking up on cue words more quickly.

The key to teaching someone how to run does not rest in the shoes, rather, it lies in what has already been stated, the mechanics of the movement.  Shoes, as inanimate objects, don't teach mechanics.  Flexible hips, strong glutes, strong hamstrings, and having the right cue words in your ears (not your iPod) will be the key variables in getting you off your heels and onto your midfoot.   

Without going into great detail, here are the 7 key points I make in teaching someone how to run:

1) Notice that similarly to my other blogs, I don't use the terms "forefoot" or "balls of your feet."  These two phrases are getting many runners into trouble.  In terms of injuries, running forefoot can be just as bad as running on your heels.  Unless you are a true sprinter, like Usain Bolt, I don't recommend running on the balls of the feet (or the toes), which is a different beast altogether.

2) I have remained hesitant to fully embrace the minimalist shoe movement, especially as I've refined the way I teach run mechanics.  Minimalist shoes are not evil; they're just not for everyone, especially beginners, heel strikers or those over age 40.  As the great book Tread Lightly points out, I simply find that minimalist shoes aren't necessary; however, these shoes should not be viewed as the silver bullet for causing injuries.  My advice is to pick a shoe that fits your foot, yet is not at either end of the spectrum (minimalist on one side and motion control on the other).  Jokingly, I tell runners to buy shoes that make them look fast or match their run apparel. 

3) Related to #2, a smart approach to run volume/intensity goes much further in preventing injuries than does the style of shoe, assuming the runner has a decent midfoot strike.  Some runners contacting me for Running101 sessions are doing so after injuries resulting from running in minimalist shoes.

4) There is such a thing as running too slowly.  Most of the heel strikers I meet are beginning runners and/or running way too sloooooooow.  We typically have better run mechanics the faster we run, so I encourage people to run slightly faster and cut down on the duration of the run.  I teach people how to sprint first, then I teach them how to jog.  On a related note, I convince some people not to run a marathon or half-marathon until they learn to run properly.  Throw rotten tomatoes at me if you like, but it's a short-term loss (not getting the finisher's medal) for a long-term gain (running injury-free for years to come).

5) Related to #4, if I can get a runner to view sprinting and jogging as similar mechanics, yet with a relatively shorter stride on the jogs, then I'm close to getting them to a midfoot strike.

6) Heel striking is the same as walking, which is why running too slowly is not good. I explain that it's the leg mechanics in the final moments of the stride that is putting runners on their heels.  Again, it's about the mechanics, not the shoes.

7) Finally, faster cadence is not the answer!  Cadence and foot strike may be correlated, but we all know from science classes that correlations are not cause-effect.  Go down to the National Mall and watch hundreds of heel strikers with a cadence at 90+.  I would even argue that the faster cadence often promotes heel striking.  If I can get someone into a midfoot strike, but with a slow turnover, that's okay because correcting cadence takes much less work.

As I stated before, it may take more than one run for the new midfoot strike to stick, but the initial goal/change can be accomplished in just 20 minutes (in ideal cases), without having to change your current run shoes.  I have several different ways of explaining the mechanics.  It's just like teaching in a classroom, you have to have more than one way to explain the same idea, because different students will grasp ideas in different ways. 

If you're interested in learning how to change your run form (foot strike, posture, arm swing, etc) drop me a line.

Train hard!