My Impressions of ChiRunning
I recently finished reading the book ChiRunning: A Revolutionary Approach to Effortless, Injury-Free Running, by Danny Dreyer and Katherine Dreyer. Now, I know the book came out in 2009, and perhaps I’m a bit behind on my running-related reading, but give me a break! I had barely run a 5k when the book came out, and I certainly wasn’t thinking nearly as intentionally about my running as I am now. Thus, this book was “new to me” and I thoroughly enjoyed the read. I read this book throughout my fall ultramarathon training, which gave me plenty of miles to experiment with the various techniques emphasized in the book.
When I began running, my intentionality didn’t go much further than making sure I had my shoes laced, and a house key in my pocket. The most important step was lacing up and getting myself out the door, and that commitment certainly got me off to a great start. However, as my mileage has increased and my goals have gotten bigger, I’ve enjoyed the analytical side of running. In general, I enjoy immersing myself in a new subject, learning as much as I can about it, and utilizing the knowledge I have gained. Thus, it was an obvious next step in my running journey to start picking up a few books to see what the “experts” had to say. Up until this point, I was certainly a faithful Runners World subscriber, and I loved every bit of Born to Run when I got my hands on it. However, ChiRunning is the first technique-oriented text I have picked up, with the goal of finding ways to improve my running experience.
ChiRunning is an overall technique that has gained a lot of attention from various sources for helping runners run smarter and find themselves with less injuries. There have been follow-up books, as well as instructional DVDs and in-person running seminars. The ideas are based on many of the principles of T’ai Chi, an ancient Chinese tradition which involves a series of movements performed in a slow, focused manner while your breathing is controlled. The health benefits are far reaching, including the reduction of stress and anxiety.
There are several specific aspects to the ChiRunning philosophy, and everything else, in one way or another, stems from these core principles.
1) Body-Sensing: By spending more time sensing how you are feeling, where things feel out of line, are abnormally sore, or where you are carrying stress, you can focus and relax so you are using your entire body for the running experience. We often simply accept that various aches and pains are a part of the running process, but if they don’t go away, there is really nothing natural about them. Something is off.
2) Cotton & Steel: When you focus your energy in your core, and strengthen your core, your legs don’t need to work as hard. As a result, your core (steel) is doing most of the work, and your legs (cotton) are simply along for the ride! The result is far less tress on your knees because you aren’t impacting the ground and pushing off nearly as hard. It’s the best argument for doing more core work I’ve heard in awhile.
3) Posture: It should seem relatively obvious that good posture makes for better running, but we often lose track of our posture as we get tired. The book discusses the need to focus not just on upper-body posture (which most people stop at), but also lower-body posture, and correct pelvic tilt. Checking your posture periodically can help the other aspects fall into place more easily as well.
4) Lean: This was probably the most profound aspect of the philosophy for me. I’ve heard discussions of the benefits of a mid-foot strike before. However, this takes that one step further and uses the example of an alpine ski-jumper to demonstrate a correct lean while running. By leaning forward (while maintaining your posture), you are not only enabling a mid-foot strike, but you are letting gravity do more of the work for you!
The book went into much more detail, not only on these core aspects, but various other components of good running technique and body mechanics. Dreyer also addressed training, healthy eating, and various other aspects of a holistic approach to running.
Although I haven’t attended a workshop or received any expert instruction, I can honestly say that I’ve noticed a positive change in my running as a result of these basic ideas. As with any change, practice makes perfect, and I will continue to work on my form and technique- always a work in progress!