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How To Help A Heel Striker – Experienced Runners

In our last post, we gave you some simple tips for helping a runner convert to forefoot striking in a way that puts very little pressure on the new runner. That’s all well and fine. But things can get a bit hairier if you are trying to help out an experienced runner. Where the newbie is most often happy to absorb all the advice he or she can get, the grizzled veteran is likely set in their ways. This includes not only their running form, but also their thoughts, views, and opinions on running form and running in it’s entirety.

What’s the best way to gently suggest that someone change their form?

It’s helpful to know what their goals are.  For example, if they are training for a 5K, or just running to stay in shape throughout the years, they might not actually be running too often. This is the kind of person who usually runs on autopilot and doesn’t actively think much about their mechanics, although they consider themselves a knowledgeable runner. If the person is a marathoner, chances are they’ve sat down at some point with a coach, or at least tried to actively learn more about running and how to improve. These types of people are usually very knowledgeable about running and are probably already aware of forefoot striking. If the runner you’d like to counsel is an actual professional, then you may just want to leave it alone and know that they are definitely doing [form flaw X] it on purpose. They probably don’t care.

  • Explicitly tell them that you want to help them. This is the same advice as I give to people trying to help new runners, it still applies. Letting someone know that you want to help them goes a long way towards at least getting them to listen. Most likely, they won’t want your advice. They may listen to be polite, but won’t really take your words to heart. But it’s okay. If they’re willing to listen, you can at least rest easy knowing that you tried to help them. It’s up to them if they’re willing to make changes that benefit them in the long-term.
  • Test their knowledge. So you’ve got their ear. Now’s the time to see what they know. Find out what they know about different foot strikes.
  • Present why forefoot striking is superior. Even though you may be their equal (maybe not even that) from a running standpoint, present yourself as an expert on forefoot striking. It’s okay to get into science a little bit if you know that they understand their body and running mechanics. Make the effects of impact forces clear and let them know that they can improve their efficiency and prevent injury at the same time. Point out that shoe cushioning does very little to protect your feet and legs.
  • Go through what the basics of “good form”. Chances are they have some of it right. Or, they at least know what they should be doing. They’re probably just not doing it. Give an overview of posture, cadence, lean, and head position to refresh them without overwhelming them.
  • Give them some reference materials. Give them some books on mechanics (check our recommended reading section) and recommend your favorite websites. This will allow them to reinforce what you’ve told them on their own time.
  • Make sure they take it slowly. Experienced runners who are used to long, intense runs and high mileage usually have a hard time backing off. They’re training for something, and the idea of running less doesn’t usually help too much. Remind them that this is a long game and the idea is to achieve better results with less effort. It may require less running up front (to prevent injury as their bodies adapt to the new form), but they are purging themselves of bad form and should see immediate health and performance benefits.
  • Don’t nag. If you know a lot about this person’s form, chances are you run with them. Go on a few runs with them and make a few comments here and there about their form. Do not spend the entire run nitpicking their form. Just a few reminders throughout the course of the entire run will suffice. Remember, they already know what they are doing, you’re just introducing them to something new. Be positive that they’re trying it and gracious that they’re taking your advice!

Feel free to leave your own suggestions and advice for other runners in the comments!

Image By: Stuart Grout
Tags: , , ,
May 15th, 2012
Written By: Brett

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