How to Teach–and Learn–Running Form Better

Have you ever had someone coach you in running form — a coach, friend, therapist, or know-it-all acquaintance — and try as you might you just could not get it? You make an attempt and ask hopefully, “Was that it?” and get a shake of the head in return or a rephrased instruction or, worst of all, that halfhearted “Yeah, sort of” that means “No, but I’m giving up.”

Or perhaps you’ve tried to help a runner with their form but just couldn’t get the results you were aiming for.

Many years ago, an engineer came to see me for help with his knee pain and wanted me to tell him what to do different. He was shocked to find I wasn’t going to tell him how to run but instead help him feel how to run. He told me the thing I absolutely had to do to make my practice succeed was to explain that the part of your brain that coordinates your movement doesn’t speak English. Or any other spoken language.

That’s why when a runner comes to me in pain I don’t tell them what to do differently. It doesn’t work.

I do obviously write about running form and also explain it in my video course, but that’s  because there is so much faulty information out there that needs to be combated. And even when I explain, I also try to give you ways to experience what I’m talking about because that’s the part that works.

William Blake wrote,

As the true method of knowledge is experiment, the true faculty of knowing must be the faculty which experiences.

Experiment and experience are the only way we learn things, and one of the riches of this quote is how it connects the two things. They can only exist in the presence of each other.

We don’t really learn how to do things by someone telling us. We learn by experiencing how to do them and find that experience by experimenting. This means to learn to do things right you also have to do them wrong. Not only that, you have to do them wrong in as many different ways as possible. And do them right in as many different ways as well.

This is why running form instruction, cues, and drills are marginally effective if at all. No one can really tell you how to run, and as for that famous Vince Lombardi quote, “Practice does not make perfect. Perfect practice makes perfect…” well, that offers the runner trying to improve her form nothing but a catch-22. How are you supposed to practice perfect running form (setting aside for a moment the fact that the very concept is flawed) if the whole problem is that you aren’t able to execute perfect running form?!

I’ve had a number coaches and physical therapists as clients over the years, and many have told me that after the experience of learning to run using the Feldenkrais Method of Movement Education in my office they’ve changed how they practice. Instead of giving instructions, they ask questions instead. They find it’s more effective.

Asking questions causes people to tune into their bodies and begin to experience what they’re doing. It opens the possibility of trying new things and initiates a learning process. Ask yourself questions when you run, such as:

  • Am I leaning forward the right amount? What would happen if I lean forward more? Less?
  • Is my pelvis moving? What if I try to hold it still? What if I try to turn it a bit more? What if I try to tip it side-to-side?
  • Does my running feel easy? Is there anywhere I feel tension?

You don’t have to have answers. You just need to ask questions and then try things. Experience, experiment… the more you do this, the more clearly you’ll experience your body. Moshe Feldenkrais was fond of saying,

When you know what you’re doing you can do what you want.

This process of experiencing and experimenting is the essence of Feldenkrais lessons, that’s why I use the method to help runners. You can bring this learning strategy into your running, into helping runners, and elsewhere in your life.

3 thoughts on “How to Teach–and Learn–Running Form Better”

  1. one of my favorite of your posts. A lesson that can never be learned well enough. I have so often tried to do things “right”.

  2. A very insightful post. I used to ‘teach’ running form but I stopped because I felt that the more information I learned, the less I knew the answers to give people. I didn’t feel I could teach with integrity without really knowing whether the ‘solutions’ I was offering were right. Your approach is refreshing and intriguing.


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