Wednesday, February 20, 2008

The Core, The Core, The Core

Master: You must concentrate on the tan t'ien. Only then will your arms and legs relax and allow you to succeed.

Grasshopper: Yes, master. I will concentrate on my core and my arms and legs will be like cotton moving effortlessly with my running stride.

So, I'm reading Chi Running (shown to the right) which promotes the principles of T'ai Chi and how it relates to running. I'm always open to new ideas. Many times I cherry pick a thought or concept here and there from different books/studies I read and absorb it into my own collective knowledge database. Rarely do I embrace an entire concept, in whole, and live it. I have a bit too much of an independent streak for that. Though I am not quite through with it yet, Chi Running is one of those books where I can realize some benefits but will probably not embrace the entire concept.

So far, I have really latched onto the idea that the most efficient, effortless, injury free running comes when you shift the focus off your arms and legs and instead concentrate on your core. The book suggests that most runners mistakenly think about their running stride and each foot fall while in the act of running. Or spend too much time worrying about building leg or arm muscles to propel themselves forward. Chi Running, using concepts from T'ai Chi, proposes that the best running comes when you forget about your arms and legs and instead concentrate on your core (the area behind and slightly below the navel) and allow that to become the energy force that moves you forward. It sounds a bit abstract and hard to define. I'm struggling with exactly what it means myself (though, again, I'm not entirely through the book yet. Patience, grasshopper, patience).

The idea is that your core, or tan t'ien (or dantien), is the basic center of your gravity/energy. By using that energy force to move you forward, your legs and arms simply become appendages to carry out the running motion. The pressure is relieved from your legs particularly and you develop a more natural, relaxed stride. Running injuries, the book suggest, are the result of too much muscular pressure on the legs to move the body forward.

Cotton and steel: All movements originate from your center, which should be strong like steel while your arms and legs remain soft, like cotton.

I have gone on a couple runs recently, albeit treadmill runs, and have focused on my core and completely forgot about my arms and legs and let them do their own thing naturally. I have to say, I did feel a lot more comfortable while running. I felt quicker. And I had minimal post-run hamstring soreness which I had been experiencing quite a bit of over the last several weeks.

I'm going to keep giving this technique a shot. I can't say that I've been concentrating on my legs previously. But I know I was NOT focusing on my core. Maybe the change in mental focus will lead to a better physical performance. We'll see. Stay tuned.

I wonder what else is in the book?

Right now, I'm still waxing the car...wax on, wax off...and not seeing the whole picture.

12 treadmill miles Sunday.
4.5 treadmill miles last night.

I'll do 6.5 miles tomorrow and 13 on Saturday (possibly with Mike). Hopefully, those will be done outside.

Nine weeks to Boston!

Happy trails.


Mir said...

Wow, that sounds really interesting! I might have to check that out. :)

Grellan said...

I'm resading Chi Running at the moment also and am coming to the same conclusion as you - some good tips but not total conversion. This is partly because i'm following a marathon training programme in "Brain Training for Runners" by Matt Fitzgerald which introduced me to new running concepts, which I want to try out.

Best of luck in Boston.

Amanda said...

hmm I like the idea of focusing on my core, I'm going to try that on my next run.

Non-Runner Nancy said...

I'm hearing a lot about this too. Haven't fully understood it yet either, but been concentrating onsome core work. Physical therapy guy is also placing a lot of emphasis on the core....

Good luck, grasshopper!