We Should Value Running Form Instruction Like We Value Swimming Lessons

This time of year at the recreation and aquatics center where I work people are busy signing up for the seasonal swimming lessons. There are 140 different group classes designed for different ages and ability levels. Several dozen private lesson slots are also available. Because people see value in them, they’re popular and fill up quickly. Most of us regard swimming as a movement skill that needs to be learned and practiced. But in the case of running it’s often assumed that we intuitively know how to do it well. We recognize the need to seek advice about how often, how far, and how fast to run in order to prepare for a particular running goal, such as a marathon or a 10K race, but running form or technique has been largely ignored. Research is increasingly showing that our lack of attention to running form is resulting in injuries and compromising our performance and enjoyment.

For 40 years the running shoe industry has filled that void by nurturing the beliefs that good form comes from selecting the “correct” shoe for our particular foot type, and that slickly marketed stability components and cushioning will protect us and make us happy runners. That’s like expecting a swimmer to move efficiently and with the least risk of injury through the water based merely on swimsuit selection. I think most of us would reject that idea as nonsensical.

We may be born to run, but we’re not born to run skillfully. Good biomechanics is not something a few of us are born with, but like a golf swing, a swimming stroke, or a tennis serve, is something that can be taught, learned, and put into practice. It’s essential for the elite and average runner alike. And while good running technique ideally should be part of every elementary school’s physical education curriculum, it’s never too late to start learning it.

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