Forefoot running form can be improved by using an unconscious mental process known as “priming”.
For instance, some studies have shown that college students exposed to descriptions associated with the elderly -“Florida”, “gray”, “bingo”, and so on -subsequently walked down the hall more slowly after the experiment, in line with the stereotype of the elderly as slow and weak.
In the context of forefoot running, priming words can be used to help us run faster, smoother, and more efficient. For example, priming words such as “run light, land soft, flow, relax, glide, fly, tension-release, etc. can initiate behavioral characteristics associated with safer, more efficient forefoot running.
Why does priming work? Because it puts you in the right frame of mind to do the right thing and to interact less forcefully with the ground.
Also, priming works because it limits the number of ‘mechanical thoughts’ during running, preventing the runner from being overwhelmed mentally.
- Hyper-focusing on too many mechanical thoughts at once when running is not only mentally overwhelming, but physically overwhelming, resulting in impulses that are harder to understand and control.
- Using priming words before forefoot running free’s up the mind, allowing the body to regulate its own landing behaviour via the central pattern generators of the spinal cord -remember, our ancestors ran without thinking about how to run.
Another example is to use priming words that describe the forefoot running style of your favorite elite runner.
My favorite runner is Tirunesh Dibaba (shown above) and I like to use priming words that describe her forefoot running style to help me run better. My priming words for her includes “forward shift, leg-spring, springy, elegant, flowing, easy, fluid, effortless, run tall, push forward, butt-kick”. Try it and you will notice how effective priming is at motivating how you run.
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Bargh, JA. Our Unconscious Mind. Scientific American, January 2014, pp.33.
BSc Neurobiology; MSc Biomechanics candidate, ultra minimalist runner & founder of RunForefoot. I was a heel striker, always injured. I was inspired by the great Tirunesh Dibaba to try forefoot running. Now, I'm injury free. This is why I launched Run Forefoot, to advocate the health & performance benefits of forefoot running and to raise awareness on the dangers of heel striking, because the world needs to know.