An Introduction to Chi Running

Chi Running Book
Chi Running Book

I first heard of Chi Running five years ago when I started training for my first ever race. A colleague mentioned the book in a lunchroom conversation. A few days later I was browsing a liquidation sale of a running store that was going out of business and found the book heavily discounted and bought it.

Over the years I've casually flipped through it's pages but never read it in its entirety.

What Is Chi Running

Chi Running is a technique that teaches runners how to run safely and efficiently, reducing impact and effort to prevent injury. It emphasizes using form/alignment, core strength and gravity to propel running.

The theory behind Chi Running sort of made sense to me, but I'm a visually oriented person. I prefer instructor-led learning vs. learning from a book, and never really got the gist of it.

Chi Running Level I Workshop

Fast forward to late 2012. My running friend RoadBunner attended both workshop levels of Chi Running and gave it a good review. She thought I could benefit from it so I decided signed up for Level 1 workshop.

I learned that it is only held on the first Sunday of each month. Although I signed up in mid-January, I was running the Kaiser Half Marathon on the first Sunday in February, so I had to wait till March 3rd to attend the workshop.

The workshop was held in the Presidio and taught by Sally Mitchell, a certified Chi Running instructor

There were only five of us in the workshop, which was just the right size to ensure that each had individual attention from the instructor.

Chi Running Class
Chi Running Class

During the three-hour class we were introduced to Chi Running and it's philosophies.

Then we went through a series of exercises to teach us:

+ Proper Posture and Alignment + How to forward lean + What to do with are feet, legs and arms + The importance of cadence and stride length + Where our eyes should be looking at during a run

The points that stood out for me were:

+ Align your body in a way that your bones and joints vs. muscles and tendons will support it + Level your pelvis and engage your lower abdominal muscles + To use gravity and the force of the road to pull us forward when running + Run with a lean so your feet land under your center of mass mid-foot striking vs. heel striking. When you land on your heel you are essentially braking yourself with every step, thus increasing the risk of injury.

I was informed that I was a very upright runner and an extreme heel striker. It's no wonder I get injured a lot.

As I practiced the exercises, I got the hang of the posture with no problem at all, but still struggled with the lean. When I did the exercises I felt like I was leaning forward a lot, but then Sally would tell me I could lean forward more. I guess when you run as upright as I did, even the slightest lean felt like I was about to fall on my face.

At the end of the workshop Sally took a video of each of us running:

She assessed that:

+ My posture, lean and rear strides looked good. + I was landing mid-foot when in 1st gear which was great, but when I leaned a little more and went into 2nd and 3rd gears. + I was still landing slightly on my heel. But it was much better than at the start of the class. + I was still slightly dorsi-flexing of my foot when I lifted and needed to relax my feet so not to use my shin muscles at all. + My arms were coming a little far in front and I needed to only swing them to the rear. + I could practice rotating my hips a little more and perhaps to really exaggerate it. + Always look ahead and not at the ground.

It seems like a lot of things to work on and it was, but I was pleased that there was some progress since the start of the class.

While on vacation in Arizona, I ran six times with each run being 5-miles or less. Because my coach only assigned easy runs while I was on vacation, it was the perfect opportunity to practice Chi Running.

What I found was:

+ My paces were 30-60 sec faster without additional effort. + When I reverted back to my pre-Chi Running form, I could feel a noticeable difference in ease, efficiency and effort - meaning that it was a lot harder on my body to maintain the same pace. + It isn't easy to change your running form

I was experienced soreness in areas that I shouldn't if I was properly Chi Running. So I became convinced that I was doing it wrong. In addition, I was still confused about what to do with my legs. Should they not swing forward at all? And if I don't swing them forward I feel like I'm duck walking...this can't be the way you're "supposed" to run.

It started to mess with my mind and focus. I kept stopping mid-run to reset my form, which is encouraged, but got really annoying on long runs. I already have enough problems focusing and this added to my frustrations.

I really needed feedback, someone to watch me run and validate if I was implementing Chi Running properly, or creating more bad habits. So a few nights ago Sally was kind enough to meet with me for 1:1 consultation.

I was pleasantly surprised to hear her say that she definitely saw improvements, and suggested that maybe the soreness I was feeling was because I was engaging muscles that I hadn't used before. That thought did cross my mind, but I just didn't know.

However, while had improved, she still thought that I could lean more. This baffled my mind because I was feeling like if I leaned any more I would fall flat on my face. But considering that I was a very upright runner, this made sense.

She kept me going through setting up the posture and running back and forth. As I did so she would give me tips and advice on each time. She kept saying that I was doing it right but something still didn't look right and she couldn't place her finger on it...until...

She realized that I was trying to learn forward while still pulling my neck and shoulders back. Once I made that adjustment to relax my neck and shoulders, and just let my body lean, everything came together.

Here's a video from my private consultation, 3 week after the Level 1 workshop:

It definitely takes time to change your running form, but now that I know what Chi Running is supposed to feel like, I feel more confident about continuing to practice it. It's a work in progress but hopefully it will set me up nicely for a stronger (and less sore and injured) training cycle.

{And I'm looking forward to taking the Level 2 workshop in a couple of weeks!}