Last week I explained how barefoot running helps you stay healthy by providing endless variety in your running form. That variety helps spread out the stress to your tissues so you don’t keep breaking down the same areas over and over, risking injury. It also helps you cope with the unexpected – rough terrain, obstacles, etc. – more safely.
Variety of every kind helps accomplish this, including varying your speed, distance, types of workouts, and terrain; doing drills; and cross-training. I’ve written about this before, looking at how varied workouts help the casual fitness runner develop good form. But there’s something else you can and should do to protect against injury, fulfill your potential, and fully enjoy running: build your versatility and coordination.
In The Running Machine Myth, his superb article for Running Times, John Kiely writes:
“We once believed running skill was optimized by monotonously replicating movements the same way, over and over. Today it’s clear that coordination thrives not on regimentation, but on exploration. Accordingly, the goal of coordination training is not to imprint formulaic technical solutions but to build flexible problem-solving responsiveness… Because we cannot see or easily measure changes in coordination, we have tended to ignore it. Yet efficiency and injury resilience are ultimately dependent upon this much under-appreciated dimension of running performance.”
Though he wasn’t writing specifically about the method I use – the Feldenkrais Method of Movement Education® — it is a perfect explanation of how and why the method works for runners.
The Feldenkrais Method of Somatic Education is a technique for learning how to move and function better using many of the same principles children use when they’re originally learning: exploration and experimentation, variation, listening to your body, and seeking out the most comfortable, easy, and enjoyable ways of doing things.
The method was developed by Moshe Feldenkrais, D.Sc., a distinguished scientist and engineer whose career included work at the Curie Institute in Paris in the 1930′s. He was also a respected Judo instructor, and was a founder of the Ju Jitsu Club in Paris. He developed the method that bears his name originally to resolve his own knee pain, and it is now practiced around the world to help people learn how to move better so they can do the things that matter most to them.
This elegant little video created by an Australian Feldenkrais practitioner explains a bit more about how the method works:
Although I have a zeal for talking, blogging, and spreading the word about how good running form really works, I don’t lecture or instruct runners who come to me or buy my audio programmes for help with their form. I don’t give them drills or corrective strength training or stretching. Instead, as a Feldenkrais practitioner, I create learning experiences for them that require attention, increase their self-awareness, build their coordination, and result in robust, versatile, resilient running form.
When you learn to run by improving your coordination rather than drilling, running gets easier and easier, and you recover the joy you had when you were a child, even if your performance is very grownup indeed.
Every year during International Feldenkrais Awareness Week, the UK Feldenkrais Guild releases a series of brief audio lessons for free. This year they invited me to contribute one for runners; it was released Thursday and you’ll find it here along with a number of other excellent ones suitable for the general population (runners or otherwise). I recommend you take this great opportunity to try them all!
Have you ever tried the Feldenkrais Method to improve your running? Share your experiences in the comments!
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Jae Gruenke, GCFP, is a running technique expert and Feldenkrais Practitioner. Known as a “running form guru,” she is the Founder and CEO of The Balanced Runner™ in New York City and The Balanced Runner UK. She has helped runners from beginner to Olympian improve their form to become pain-free, economical, and fast.