“A good runner leaves no footprints.” – Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching
Don’t worry, there won’t be any woo woo in this article. So if you’re skeptical about energy flows and ‘Chi’ in general, you should stick around as I’ll be going through the more practical applications of this ‘Chi’ approach to running. If you’re wondering why it would help you, just know that this approach aims to help you use gravity to move faster, to move effortlessly and to minimise the risk of injury. What runner wouldn’t want these results?
I should also mention that despite its title, this book is a straightforward guide to putting chi running into practice. It’s full of stories and case studies alongside the abstract expressions of Tai Chi.
Is injury-free running a myth?
Are you aware of just how many runners suffer injuries each year? We’ve mentioned it once before, but according to Chi Running, this number is a behemoth 17 million people in the United States alone. That’s almost the whole population of the states of New York or Florida. The point I’m trying to make is that the numbers are staggering. If more than 60-65% of all runners get injured at least once a year, something is very wrong.
Unsurprisingly, most causes of injuries are linked to bad running form:
- Heel striking
- High heel-to-toe drop shoes
- Low cadence
- Too much, too soon in mileage
- Inadequate recovery
- Simply forcing it aka “no pain, no gain” mentality
That last one is the icing on this cake of runner’s pain. By simply forcing it day after day, in spite of aches or discomfort (caused by bad form), we get into a rut of performing nonsensical and even dangerous movement patterns.
Luckily, this book ‘Chi Running’ was written to help people break the above patterns and make running a joyful practice. It shows you how you can still improve your running and PR but without risking injuries. It’s essentially a guide to rewire your bad running habits.
How can you rewire your running?
These are the key principles that will help you transition to more natural running according to the author of the book, Danny Dreyer:
Less is more. This is the basis of all Tai Chi principles. This + unlocking the natural energy flow by allowing your body to move fluidly. There is no forcing through the pain: there has to be no pain, whatsoever. Which brings us to the second point:
- Don’t force it: let gravity propel you forward. Too many runners force running with their body totally upright. Chi Running will teach you to lean forward, still keeping your body tall and upright, but allowing gravity to pull you. This is the key to effortless and prolonged running. You see, the psoa muscles are built to act like a rubber band elevating your feet automatically as you move. However, they don’t work that way if your waist is bent. As long as your pelvis is straight, not tilted because of the waist bending – you will experience a very relaxed stride. So if you want to run faster, lean forward a bit more. If you wish to slow down, lean back into upright position.
- As gravity pulls you forward you must engage your core. In fact Chi running is all about using your core and psoas specifically as primary muscle groups. Your limbs have to be relaxed throughout the run, and it’s your core that should be tight instead (it gets sore after some time).
What I found extremely helpful was the tip to focus on swinging the arms backward, rather than to the front. This is a small mind trick that allows you to keep your back straight as well as swing arms parallel without crossing them over the front of your body. (Crossing your arms is bad form and wastes a lot of energy.) The second great takeaway was regarding limb movement: if you want to increase your cadence, focus on swinging your arms faster. Surprisingly your legs will follow! You’ll speed up effortlessly without the disconnect between muscle groups that usually occurs: that’s the true power of Chi running.
- Focus on keeping your feet straight and land on the midfoot/forefoot. Common among runners is the duck feet syndrome, where the feet point outward making a runner move as if they are overgrown and very awkward ducks. Your feet should always be landing straight. Now if your foot form is already correct, the next thing to check is that your ground contact point is as closely in line with the hips as possible. If you’re not leaning forward, your stride is too big, the cadence is too slow and you will most likely end up heel striking. (Can you see now how a small but bad habit can mess up your whole running game?)
In short – allowing fluid movement will result in better biomechanics. So, to recap…
This is what you need to focus on every time you’re running:
- Posture: tall, upright, leaning forward.
- Relaxed limbs: imagine them being pendulums with their own mindset.
- Loose joints: no C3PO type of restricted and tight movement. Be like water.
- Engaged core muscles: you will feel each run in your stomach when you start practicing Chi running.
- Focussed mind: this is the key to maintain correct form from the moment you start, to the moment you finish.
- Good breathing technique: No shallow, panic breathing. Focus on deep, consistent breathing.
As with any running practice that you’re new to, the process of rewiring the bad running patterns may take some time. It’s worth the effort however. I was skeptical at first, but after a couple months of practice my running has improved. I feel I run like water, I feel unstoppable and ready to go the distance without fearing injuries.
I do recommend picking up this book to improve your running. Besides the less conventional Chi approach to running, the book contains the essentials for any runner: from taking up a 5K, 10K… to a marathon or an ultra. And all advice is backed by compelling testimonials and case studies.