I just came across a recent article that my friend and favorite barefoot/minimalist guru, Jason Robillard, wrote in his blog, called “The Heel Striking Experiment: Why Bad Form is Stupid.” In it, he addresses the very same topic that I struggle with all the time: how consistently reluctant heel-striking runners are about improving their form. The refusal to even attempt the change is astounding, even if they’ve heard over and over again how important it is, how good form can whittle away many nagging injuries, how it can keep them running longer and happier. In his well-written article, Jason asks us:
“WHY WOULD YOU RUN IN A WAY THAT ENGAGES THE BRAKES WITH EACH STEP?!?”
Well, I think I know the answer to that.
You see, people in general like to do what they are told. We live the course of our lives based on what we are expected to do. Grow up, go to college, get a day job, get married, have kids, buy a house, buy a practical car, get credit cards, drink milk, and the list goes on. And if you decide you’re going to be a runner? You’re supposed to walk into a running shoe store at the mall and have a 19 year old part-time employee (who probably doesn’t run) “fit” you for the “right” stability shoe for your level of “pronation.” Then, and only then, can you attempt to run. Right?
Wrong. So, so very wrong.
But hey, we can’t help it. We humans are essentially pack animals. The strongest perceived leader gets all the loyalty. In this case, it’s Nike. Asics. Brooks. Whatever brand the sales guy thinks we should be wearing this year. And that’s why sales people do so well in our society. So if you’re a new runner, the running shoe sales guy is the precious link to your perceived leader, he knows what you should be wearing on your feet. So you listen to him. You do what you’re told, like a good consumer. And you are never told by your leader that you need to learn good form. Instead, you are told that if you buy this magical $180 gel-stuffed, super-stability heel lift, it will miraculously bypass any and all flaws in your poor running form and make you run injury-free. Of course the biggest hole in this theory begins with the notion alone that you are flawed. You are flawed because you have flat feet. Weak ankles. Bad knees. Bunions. You overpronate, underpronate.
Almost everyone who walks into a running shoe store is convinced (by their “leader”) that there is something wrong with them that would prohibit running, unless of course they purchase their very own miracle shoe before they leave the store. So many runners fail to ever pick up on the idea that maybe it’s been the shoes that have given them all these problems to begin with. Or at least that perhaps, just maybe, the feet they were born with are just fine on their own.
Barefoot and minimalist running has grown a lot over the past few years. I have faith that it will grow exponentially in the next few. But the crucial ideation about form and footwear will never truly take off for the lot of us pack animals unless it becomes the “leader” that the masses will follow. And what leader? Christopher McDougall? Nah. The medical field? Yeah right. No, it’s going to have to be someone like Nike, Asics or Brooks. Someone who feeds the consumer pack its shovelfuls of good authority and celebrity endorsements. Sorry to be such a cynic, but it’s true. The big boys are going to have to start selling minimalist shoes, in order for the masses to decide the theories about good running form are true.
But in the meantime, I will be spreading as many kernels of knowledge as I can to those around me who like to run. Help them realize that there is something to wearing less shoe, to learning about good form. Perhaps even convince them that they’re not broken, and they can run after all…and love it. And most importantly, that they don’t have to conform to some arbitrary authority over their footwear. Maybe one or two of them might actually listen.
November 27, 2011 at 1:03 AM
Brilliant. When you get down to brass tacks, most people are indeed “sheeple”. And to add to that, people are stubborn in general about admitting a mistake, so its very challenging for someone to admit that maybe that did not need to spend that $180 on the Magic Shoe ™.
November 27, 2011 at 11:22 AM
I couldn’t agree more. As a person who was a swimmer longg before I began running, I learned right up front wiht my main sport that form and technique are EVERYTHING. You don’t go swim a 6000 yard workout if you can’t do basic freestyle with proper form. In a race, form wins. But anyway, when I started running more it seemed obvious to me that you should learn proper form first, just like other sports. But I had nobody to teach me and I was really young and still believed that you need running shoes to run. Everyone is so brainwashed!
November 27, 2011 at 12:22 PM
Great post. I agree with you wholheartedly. However, the big leaders are going to sell minimalist shoes. What they aren’t going to sell is good form. We all know people still heel strike consistently in their vibrams or other minimalist shoes. I can promise that the big shoe companies will NOT sell good form. They will sell you the minimal shoes, and when the consumer comes back with a stress fx or some other injury the companies will site the lack of support in the minimal shoe. Its a sad sadistic cycle. I feel our community needs more folks like VIVOBAREFOOT people who are coaching proper from, shod or not. But these people need to come from the big leaders. Then is when I believe a real change will happen.
November 27, 2011 at 12:45 PM
You know, I completely agree with you that form isn’t being sold as well as footwear is. But that’s a separate problem, I think, because not even the minimalist shoe companies that are around now are even selling good form the way they should – even Vibram, the current perceived leader of all minimalist footwear. They literally include a 2″x2″ mini-booklet with your shoes that says something like “be careful when you start with these.” But like I said, the teaching of proper form to the masses is a totally different missing piece that should also be addressed by all these big authorities selling you minimalist shoes. Although, I am going to hold out faith that Nike, for example, this multi-million-dollar marketing colossal, might decide that they want to sell their new minimalist shoe bad enough that they’ll attempt to educate consumers and keep them buying. And who could do it better than them?
November 27, 2011 at 12:49 PM
Solid point. I feel they are separate issues that go hand in hand with each other. Err foot with foot rather. I think we, as a community have done a decent job of teaching form. However there is still so much unknown about running form by the masses that we are kind of taking shots in the dark. It appals me that So few people are willing to use themselves to experiment. It amazes me that people are so willing to be told what is good for them rather than find out what really works best themselves. That is the biggest change I’ve had from barefooting/running in general. Conventional is not synonymous with right.
November 27, 2011 at 3:50 PM
Nice take on the subject! It’s “funny” when I work with Americans on their running technique, the vast majority of them are looking for instant mastery. When they realize that instant mastery is unrealistic they give up. When I’ve had the chance to work with people from other countries, they seem more willing to put some effort in to the process of improving their technique.
I wonder what this says about pack nature of American culture relative to other cultures. After all we are a nation that prides it self on having a culture of hard working individualists. Apparently not when it comes to running.
November 27, 2011 at 4:12 PM
I wholeheartedly agree with you that Americans are a different breed altogether. In general we are lazy unless we get to see instant gratification from everything we do. Hence all the overweight people, and all the 78″ televisions. Thanks for reading!
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