Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Barefoot Running Coach Certification - Is it necessary?

Everyone likes to be a certified something.  Lord knows that a lot of my time has been spent acquiring more letters to put behind my name.  Is it always a good thing?  Is it necessary?  Do the letters guarantee results or can you put stock in them at all?  I think that the letters behind my name actually create more responsibility in my everyday life.  I see them as a mandate for keeping up with current understanding of the human machine and the best ways to help any given patient that walks in the door.

That being said, does a certification imply responsibility or can it be just a way to push your way into a place of authority?  Jason Robillard created some controversy when he published a blog post asserting that certifying Barefoot Running Coaches was a bad idea.  Christian Peterson jumped in the conversation with a well thought out post on the other side of the argument.  Christian's post alerted me to Angie Bee's thoughts on her own certification, and Katie Kift's "uneasyness" on certification.

I realize you are just dying to know where I stand on the issue.  It's a question that keeps you up at night and makes you jittery all day.  Well get ready for it, because here it comes!

I'm fine with certification, especially since the certification comes from Lee Saxby and VIVOBAREFOOT.  I've read Lee's awesome "Proprioception" publication and watched some video of him on YouTube and he really knows his stuff.  I was having a lot of trouble with form when I first started and Lee's video help was a great asset to my learning.  It was something I just couldn't understand from reading.  It was like I needed a coach or something...

I think the real trouble will start when anyone and everyone starts their own "certification" program.  What happens when Sketchers starts a "Natural Running" certification and starts teaching people how beneficial it is to run in Shape-ups because they "replicate a natural barefoot experience".  Think I'm kidding?  That is a direct quote from the GOrun section of their website.  I'm not going to link to it, but go check it out.  Look at some of the pictures of people happily overstriding, but landing "midfoot".  They have to land midfoot because there is a giant lump of foam in the way of landing on their heel.  It's really bad stuff.

I guess that's why I'm just fine with Saxby's program.  Get someone who knows about running out there first.  Good luck competing with Sketchers' marketing dollars though.  The point of this post is not to hate on Sketchers so I'll just say go check out their site and be amazed at what you see, then do the opposite of everything they say.

I think the important thing is to help each other out in the pursuit of better running form, barefoot or not.  Bad form kept me from a running career for years and that's almost distressing to me now that I have come to really enjoy it.  Absent a local coach, it is up to each of us to share our experiences and give our own tips and tricks to anyone who will listen, all the while encouraging people to research multiple perspectives until they find the way that works for them.  Share your thoughts on a forum or blog.  Here's a post I did on the topic.  Ask lots of questions and spark discussions on other people's blogs.

I envision a certified coach teaching larger groups on how to get started, but I'm not sure of the utility of teaching one on one.  Maybe it will be beneficial, but I know I probably wouldn't have paid someone to teach me.  I'm sure there are people out there who will, though.  I don't suppose it is that much different than taking golf or tennis lessons, but then again I've never paid for those either.  Maybe that's why I'm such a crappy tennis player.  More power to ya, Coaches!

I'm no pezzonovante in the barefoot running world, but I do have opinions.  What's your opinion?  Do you think running coaches, specifically barefoot coaches should be certified?  Leave a comment below or on Facebook!


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  2. Pardon the slightly off-topic comment (I'll add an on-topic one immediately afterwards)... if you're interested in trying Invisible Shoes huaraches, can you drop me a line?

    Now, back to the topic: Having now seen thousands of "barefoot" runners, I'm really concerned about the whole issue of coaching.


    Because if you go to any decent sized barefoot race, you'll see the majority of runners in "minimalist" footwear, and the majority of them still heel striking and overstriding like they're in regular shoes. Most of them don't know they're doing this. Or you'll see them landing on the ball of their foot, but still overstriding.

    Both of these patterns are more likely to lead to injuries.

    Then, amazingly, you'll see a significant percentage of the actual barefoot runners who heel strike as well. Usually they don't overstride as much, but they're prone to pulling and pushing with their feet, rather than placing/lifting. This, too, leads to problems (blisters, etc.).

    What I've noticed is that some percentage of people switch to barefoot and use their sensations as a guide to lead to improved form. Others seem to need a few tips to make the form changes (they feel the problem, but don't know how to move differently). And others don't even seem to feel the problem.

    So it seems that SOMETHING should be done about this, and coaching is most likely the answer. How that coaching should be done, and whether there needs to be some sort of certification is a whole different can of worms.

    And, yes, clearly some people are trying to stake their claim and make money on this growing trend. But, hey, if their work gets people to run properly, great!

  3. Thanks for your thoughts, Steven!

    I completely agree with you. A coach probably would have gotten me going with good form much more quickly. I would likely have avoided all of the problems I had starting out. It really came down to doing a TON of research and video searching for me. I needed a lot of different perspectives to really grasp some of the concepts that seem much more simple now. "Foot lift" was blowing my mind for a while and I had the blisters to prove it!