Thursday, March 06, 2008

Chi Running: Some Thoughts

As I mentioned, I'm reading Chi Running by Danny Dreyer right now to see if there are some little gold nuggets of info I may benefit from with my own technique.

Conclusion: Eureka!

Well, that's a little strong. I wouldn't say I've struck gold in the form of becoming a relaxed, injury-free, sub 6 minute pace, Kenyan style running machine. However, I definitely think I'm taking a few bits of chi wisdom away with me.

I don't like the idea of taking someone's marketed thoughts and plopping them down in a free format such as this. They took the time to research, write, and create the book so I shouldn't heist the material and make it available for the world to see. (ed. note: when I say "world", I of course mean the handful of folks who stop by here on occasion). But I think I can give some thoughts on things I've learned and embraced while directing anyone interested to purchase the book and read more about it. After all, I'm sure I'm butchering the basic ideas anyhow.

With the disclaimer out of the way, on with the shewww...

The general idea here is that most runners tend to "power run" (i.e. run with their leg muscles propelling them forward). Chi running places the emphasis on form and technique thereby minimizing the actual effort from your leg muscles and, thus, minimizing leg injuries. It's an interesting concept. Who doesn't want to run just as fast (or faster) with less effort and fewer injuries?

So, I've been giving the concepts a try with my own training runs. I have only a handful of samples so far but I believe there are some quality ideas here.

First, the book extensively covers the "correct" running posture. That was a bit tedious but not without merit particularly if you aren't exactly sure where you should be holding your arms, shoulders, head, etc. I believe I was using proper posture before so I'm not sure this offered much to me.

Next, the book explores your running form in motion. Here's where it got gooood.

Power Running, the antagonist in this tale, uses your legs to reach forward and pull you down the road. This operates on maximum leg muscle usage. Maximum strain and pressure on your feet, calves, hamstring, etc. And maximum chance for exhaustion of these muscles and injury.

Chi Running argues that most runners need to lean slightly forward from your ankles - keeping their running posture intact - to position the center of gravity in front of your body rather than the center of your body. (Note: Do Not Bend At Your Waist!) You are then using gravity itself as a propellant to move you forward rather than your legs. You should keep your legs and hips (and, really, your entire body) relaxed and loose. You then move your legs under your body - instead of "reaching" forward with them - and work with the natural gravitational forces to move your body forward. Your legs will kick out the back more whereas in Power Running your knees rise up higher in front of you. The "lean" is your gas pedal. If you want to go faster you lean slightly further. This sounds a bit unusual while reading, I know. I had images of folks getting so intent with going faster that they literally fall forward on their faces. Keep in mind we are talking a very small, almost imperceptible lean by the casual observer. You can feel it even if others can't see it.

I've tried this on a few training runs...focusing on my core (from which the chi flows), keeping my legs loose and relaxed, and leaning a bit forward from my "normal" running stride. It's a work in progress still but I definitely have noticed less strain on my leg muscles already. I think I have been getting into a bad habit of bouncing when I ran which was causing undue strain on my calves and hamstrings. By practicing some Chi Running, my legs have felt fresher during my runs and better after my runs. I have become very aware of my legs and noticed that they are often very tense when I run. Now, while running, I constantly evaluate the strain on my legs and remind myself to keep them loose and relaxed.

One of the techniques the book uses to demonstrate the difference between Power Running and Chi Running is to have you stand and run in place. You can feel the muscles under stress in your legs. Now, stand straight up and let yourself fall forward a bit and catch yourself by taking a step forward. You have now shifted the propellant from you leg muscles to gravity. When you took a step forward to catch yourself, your leg muscles were probably loose and relaxed but you still moved forward.

Interesting. I'm not a big T'ai Chi or Eastern philosophy type of guy. But I am open to new ideas or concepts. Especially anything that proposes that I can do something better with less effort.

Many of you are probably already incorporating a lot of the ideas in this book in your regular routine without knowing it. For me, this has been a good reminder to remove the emphasis from my leg muscles and back into a better form. I think I lost a bit of my form over the last several months.

So, take it for what it's worth.

Happy trails.


L*I*S*A said...

I'm going to have to read this book...thanks for the tidbits.

Non-Runner Nancy said...

dang, I left a whole huge comment and it is gone. Unless you are approving them now?

Anyway, I've been waiting for this. Been reading Chi Runner Girls blog but I can never get the jist of it. This really helped. I said some other funny stuff (believe me!) hee hee, but I can't remember now. I'm sure it was RIVETING. :D

So how's Don Quixote coming? :D

nwgdc said...

last year my calves really broke down towards the fall. i then read the book and went, "A HA!"
I like the ideas also, but as you said, it's a work in progress.

Sarah said...

It was the "lean forward from your ankles" part that I applied to my own form...with astounding results. That is the best tip I've ever gotten.

chirunner said...

Good summary. One point I'd like to add if I might, make sure you're landing mid-foot and not heel striking or pushing off with the toes. This will help you/others land under their posture. IT band issues often develop because there is too much lateral movement in hips. Be sure to concentrate on leveling the pelvis -- using your lower abs. I teach Chirunning in Ohio if you ever need any help. You're absolutely right -- this is a work in progress. A year from now you'll have an even deeper, better understanding. Good luck with Chirunning. It gave me my running life back.