Lately, I’ve been getting some questions along the lines of this: “I still have a Friend/Spouse/Sibling/Teammate X who is heel striking/refuses to forefoot strike/thinks there is ‘no right way’ to run. How can I help them?”
There are really two answers to this question, so I thought I’d split it up into two posts, one for addressing people who are new to running and one for experienced runners. In this first post, we’ll cover people who are new to running. It’s easier to be a positive influence on someone who is new to running, and they’ll usually be much more receptive to your advice.
New runners, especially adults, are not usually interested in maximizing their performance. They’re more interested in making sure they stick with running so they can achieve whatever goal they have. These goals are usually something like weight loss, getting in shape, because their doctor recommended cardio, or something of the sort. Because of this, it’s important to tailor your advice to their goals. You know you want to help them, but if you approach things the wrong way you may risk alienating them, or trying to “tell them what to do”. After all, if you’re not a professional or a coach, you’re just another person like them, pounding the pavement until you survive until the end of the run.
Luckily, new runners are generally less set in their ways and more open to your suggestions. Make some simple suggestions to help them get on the right track to a lifetime of healthy running!
- Explicitly tell them that you want to help them. And, if they don’t want your advice, don’t force it on them. New runners are very susceptible to injuries. If they get hurt, you can help them at a later time.
- Prep them. First, give the new runner a brief overview of forefoot striking and heel striking. You’ll want to cover the differences between the two.
- Present why forefoot striking is superior. Don’t talk about science or impact forces. Just explain in simple terms that forefoot striking is a natural way to run. If they don’t believe you, have them run barefoot (even if it’s only for a few feet) and try both types of foot strike. Explain briefly how running in a shoe with a raised heel promotes heel striking and how it causes so much additional stress on their feet and legs (despite their padding). Chances are this will get them on board.
- Give a few more tips on running form. Coach them on lean, posture, moving in a straight line, and cadence. Any more than this and you risk giving them information overload.
- Tell them what to expect. They won’t necessarily just “get it” immediately. Be patient and help them. Go on a run (or several) with them and pay attention to their form. Teach them to run a self-diagnostic so they can recognize and correct form flaws on their own.
In the next post, we’ll cover experienced runners and why helping them may be a bit more difficult.
Feel free to leave your own suggestions and advice for newbies in the comments!