Do You Need to be Taught How to Run?

Posted by Filed Under: Learn to Run, Running Form, Women's Running

(Part one in a series.)
the running mechanicDo you need to be taught how to run? To many of us, the question seems ludicrous. Isn’t running among the most basic of skills? Is it even a skill at all? Or is it just an automatic thing we pick up naturally?

On the surface, the answer might be that running comes to us naturally and doesn’t have to be taught. After all, children and teenagers spend a lot of time running and yet, barring the odd accidentally broken bone, it is almost unheard of for them to get injured while running.

But then something happens; we grow up and join the adult “50 percent to 75 percent of runners get injured” club. Why? Let’s look at some common thinking on the subject.

The Six Most Common Things We Blame Injuries On

1. Sharp Increases in Mileage. A commonly accepted guideline for increasing mileage is to follow the 10 percent rule. The 10 percent rule says you should increase your miles by no more than 10 percent each week. For example, if you ran 20 miles one week, you should run no more than 22 miles the next week (two additional miles).

The rule is wise but I’m puzzled over what to think when someone follows the rule and still has problems. What happens if (like me) you acquire shin splints while following the 10 percent rule?

2. Sharp Increases in Intensity. At the heart of this statement is the idea that the “pounding” of running is magnified when we run more intensely (e.g. during speed intervals). The outcome is that the body’s restorative powers can’t keep up and “Mr. Injury” comes a knockin’.

This rationale is also not without merit, although I wonder about the premise that running must involve “pounding”.

3. Poor Footwear. For years, shoes have supposedly gotten better at protecting us from injury. It is documented that despite advances in shoe technology, the rate of injury among runners has not improved. What’s missing from this picture? Are better shoes the answer, or is there something else we need to consider? Stay tuned!

4. Hard Surfaces. We’re told that running a large number of miles on pavement is literally like running on the road to destruction. Is this true? What about the growing number of barefoot runners who spend most of their time running on pavement? Are they superhuman? Or have they learned something the rest of us haven’t?

5. Our Parents: Genetics likely plays a role in our susceptibility to injuries, but there is little we can do about that so we won’t focus our attention there.

The Sixth Thing: Poor Running Form

The least-talked-about reason for becoming injured is running with poor form (aka “mechanics” or “technique”).

What’s interesting about correcting poor form is that doing so can lessen the effects of long, intense, pounding miles on hard surfaces.

And this brings us right back to where we started, though with clearer questions: Do we know what good form is, whether we’re doing it, and if we’re not, can and should we change it?

Where Do We Go From Here?

In part two we’ll talk about whether you should work on improving your form and, after that, we’ll talk about the potential gains and risks for doing so and then discuss different ideas around defining what good running form is. There, we’ll look at some methods for learning how to run, talk about each method’s strengths and weaknesses, and how each of them propose to make you a better, less injury-prone runner.

About Mark Iocchelli

Also known as the "Running Blogfather", I'm a 40-something marathoner who has beaten stress fractures and terrible shin splints. Now I'm running double the mileage with no pain - and I'm getting faster. I love to talk about running form and Arthur Lydiard. I also enjoy taking photographs, have a beautiful (and very patient!) wife, and am the proud father of two crazy kids. Feel free to contact me if you have any questions or comments about the site.

  1. jank on August 28th at 9:13 am

    I’ve had some doubts about the 10% rule. Mostly, I wonder if maybe there shouldn’t be some mileage limit beneath which it doesn’t apply. IE, say I’m running 2 miles three times a week for a grand total of 6 miles a week.

    Is it really going to kill me to suddenly jump up to, say, 3 miles a day three days a week (increase of 33%), or to go to 4 days a week (increase of 25%)? What if I’ve been reliably cross-training?

  2. Jeanne on August 28th at 9:14 am

    it will kill some of us! 🙂

  3. Mark Iocchelli on August 28th at 10:59 am

    Jank: Yes, I think it would be safe to say there might be a lower mileage limit where the 10% rule might not apply. However, one might also argue that even the lower distances might benefit from the rule if one is running them at faster paces. Just a thought.

    Jeanne: I don’t think you’ll die, although some may consider it torturous enough to think it a fate worse than death!

  4. Jank on August 28th at 3:44 pm

    Huh. Never thought of it as pace-based.


  5. Joe Ely on August 28th at 4:36 pm

    Mark, looking forward to the series. For some reason, I’ve been playing more attention to form the past several weeks. But that’s just been by feel. I look forward to your further posts…thanks!!

  6. Adeel on August 28th at 6:31 pm

    The 10% rule is bizarre. I have actually heard people talking about going from 10 mpw to 11 mpw and making it to 15 mpw in about a month or two. When increasing volume, I keep it to about an extra five minutes (1 km) per run, or about 6-7 km per week.

    I like where this series is going, and I think a lot of us know where it’s headed. I know you have videos, so please post them if possible.

  7. Meg on August 28th at 8:06 pm

    I have absolutely no form…. bring it on. Part 2, oh, part 2, where are you?

    (Can’t wait!)

  8. Dawn - Pink Chick on August 29th at 8:03 am

    Form is an interesting topic. Several years ago when I went to a running clinic I was taught a more upright form but more and more today I see people heading towards a more relaxed version of the upright form. With the introduction of Pose,”Run like a kid” forms and other such forms, one has to wonder which one is really the best way to run.If it’s not what you’re doing how do you change or improve on bad habits.

    I look forward to reading more on this.

  9. Do You Need to be Taught How to Run? (part II) » Complete Running Network on September 21st at 8:35 pm

    […] (part two in a series) ———————————————– In Do You Need to be Taught How to Run Part I, we touched on some of the most common reasons why runners get injured, and concluded that poor running form is often left out of the discussion. That set the stage for Part II: Whether you should work on improving your form. […]

  10. David Smith on October 21st at 12:58 pm

    New research is also showing the static stretching is not the panacea that everyone said it was. Scientific studies suggest that we’d be better off spending the time lifting weights, cooling down, warming up or doing dynamic stretches. Looks like all of our gym teachers had it wrong.