ChiRunning

by Kim on June 25, 2013

Last week, I stopped by the library to pick up a yoga book (this one, if you’re curious). Since I always have a squirmy, impatient toddler on my hip at the library, I have to write down the exact location and number of the books I want before leaving home, but I also always deeeesperately want to browse.

Sometimes I can get away with 10-15 seconds of frantically pawing at books before Mase realizes we’re not moving. But that’s about the max.

Anyway, as I grabbed the yoga book, I noticed another one called ChiRunning (by Danny Dreyer) on the same shelf. The title itself was pretty appealing and—well, that’s about all I could tell in the 2.5 seconds I had to make a decision about it.

ChiRunning

Eh, why not. Into the purse it went.

When I got home, I surprised myself by reaching for the ChiRunning book over the yoga one. I had to know what it was all about. Was this some kind of hypno-running? Meditative running?

Most importantly: can I be running and also, somehow, technically asleep?

Here’s the ChiRunning manifesto, in short:

“ChiRunning is all about setting up conditions that make running easier, more efficient, and injury-free.”

Ok, cool. Those all sound like good things.

My interest started to waver a little bit when I got to the part about “encouraging chi to flow up and down your spine by aligning your posture,” (I’m still kind of squeamish about that stuff) but I kept reading anyway. And then I started getting hooked.

The ideas in the intro alone were totally intriguing—some of them jolting. For example:

–To run most effectively, we have to run like children. When kids run, it’s completely natural, effortless, and joyful. And their posture is perfect: they lead from the chest with a nice forward lean, they have a great stride that opens up behind them, heels high in the air, and a relaxed arm swing.

kids running
(source)

But we don’t have the same bodies we had as kiddos. The stress and tension we accumulate over the years corrupts our perfect form, and the goal is to get that back by relearning how to truly relax.

I’m starting to think that relaxation is the key to nailing literally every aspect of life. But anyway.

To quote the book:

“Losing the beautiful ease of movement we had as children is part of the process of maturing as a human being. Children move naturally but not consciously. It is our job, as adults, to learn how  to move consciously through life with that same flow and beauty.”

–Running does not hurt your body, it’s the way you run that does the damage and causes pain. People treat injury as part of the sport, like it’s inevitable. But it doesn’t have to be that way, Dreyer claims. He also says that the idea that overtraining leads to injury is a myth—although it can be a factor, the real problem is form and biomechanics, not plain old miles.

The book includes several stories of Dreyer’s clients, who, once they learned how to run without tension, stopped injuring themselves completely. Dreyer himself claims he hasn’t had an injury since 1998, when he discovered ChiRunning (and the book was published in 2009) despite a heavy teaching, training, and racing (including ultramarathons) schedule.

Woah. This was a revelation to me. I’ve never personally been seriously hurt by running, other than some random aches and the typical post-run tightness, but I did think of injury as a pretty standard hurdle for runners.

–Most people are never taught how to run. At the gym or in continuing education catalogs, there are classes for every sport on the planet except running. We take for granted that we know how.

But there are just as many mechanics involved in running properly as there are in, say, swinging a baseball bat. So why would we assume we’d know how to do it naturally?

ChiRunning3

–Some people think Kenyans are good runners because they have slender legs and thus use relatively less energy when running. In reality, Kenyans have slender legs because they have such excellent running economy. They don’t have massive leg muscles because they don’t need them.

What they do have is great forward leans, strong cores, and several other ChiRunning elements that make their running form basically flawless.

–Overpronation is not just something you should buy special shoes for. It’s something you should FIX.

This one blew my mind a little bit, too. All this time I’ve been searching for shoes specifically to help address my right foot’s overpronation tendencies. I always thought I was supposed to embrace my body’s natural gait, rather than trying to correct it.

According to Dreyer, that’s not the case. To get your feet aligned, he recommends rotating each leg until your feet point forward, rather than just pointing your feet themselves forward. It might feel uncomfortable at first, he says, so you should work at it gradually, little by little. Eventually, your muscles will get used to the change.

I tried this on the treadmill last night and it was definitely uncomfortable. I’m not sure how I feel about this one yet, but I would love it if overpronation was really correctable.

Like I said, this was all just in the intro. I haven’t gotten much further than that, but I’m excited to dive into the posture lessons next. (And, hopefully, the running-while-sleeping techniques right after that! Haha.)

P.S. I don’t want to bore you if you’re not interested in this stuff, but please let me know if you’d like to hear more about this as I work through the book.

Apparently, there’s also a whole website devoted to ChiRunning, if you’re interested but don’t want to get the book.

ChiRunning2

Have you heard of ChiRunning?

What do you think of Dreyer’s propositions here?

Is injury-free running possible?

Do you think overpronation is fixable? Or SHOULD it be fixed?

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{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Casey Colahan July 3, 2013 at 12:59 pm

Hi everyone,

Great questions! I work for ChiRunning, so I thought I’d respond to help clarify a few things.

You learn a lot about your body when you start focusing on how you actually run. Oftentimes, something like overpronation or pain/injury is a symptom of something else going on with your technique. Whether it’s tension in a muscle, overcompensating for a weakness elsewhere, or an old injury that’s caused you to change the way you move, the key is to find the source of the problem. If you overpronate, wearing a stability shoe might help you correct that particular problem (although a recent study showed that “corrective” shoes don’t actually work), but it won’t help you fix what’s causing the overpronation, which could manifest itself in other pain/injuries over time. ChiRunning teaches you that every part of your body has a job to do. If one part is off, other parts will most likely be affected.

Another important principle of ChiRunning is to listen to your body. When you start making adjustments to your technique, it’s very important that you pay attention to how your body reacts so you don’t injure yourself. There’s a difference between pain and productive discomfort. For instance, when I first started focusing on rotating my pelvis, my hip flexors felt a little sore. My runs were feeling great, though. Many runners rely solely on their legs to move them forward, and I simply hadn’t used my hips before. After a few runs, the soreness stopped. If it had continued or gotten worse, I would have re-evaluated my technique to see what else was going on.

It can take time to change your technique, but it’s different for everyone. ChiRunning is a long-term practice, and personally, focusing on technique has made running much more interesting for me. You can find out more about ChiRunning at http://www.chirunning.com.

Thanks!
Casey Colahan, Content Manager

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Suzanne June 26, 2013 at 4:48 pm

This has been on my list to read for awhile after reading about it on several blogs last year. Thanks for the reminder that I need to look for a copy at our local library!
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Kim June 25, 2013 at 3:56 pm

Marcia at The Healthy Slice is a ChiRunner. I don’t know much about it but would love for you to share your what you are learning and your thoughts as you go through the book.
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Kristin @ A Mom on the Run June 25, 2013 at 11:39 am

I heard the Another Mother Runner ladies talking about this on one of their podcasts and it was really interesting. I’ve been meaning to pick up the book but haven’t yet, adding it to my to-do list :)
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Kim June 25, 2013 at 3:35 pm

Oh, cool, I’ll have to find that podcast!

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lindsey June 25, 2013 at 10:19 am

Oooh! This has been on my list to read! I would love to hear more of your thoughts and hope you continue to enjoy reading.

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Kim June 25, 2013 at 3:34 pm

I’ll let you know how the rest of it goes! You should definitely check it out, too. :)

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Jenn June 25, 2013 at 9:52 am

Never heard of it, but he raises some interesting points.

I don’t know that anything will ever be injury free. I mean, no matter what you do, you can land wrong, twist something, trip, etc.

However, I do think that good form is important and we should work on fixing the things that we can. However, depending on how long we’ve been stuck in a position (such as overpronation), getting out of it can cause its own issues and injuries, due to our bodies compensating for whatever form we are using. Just my two cents.
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Kim June 25, 2013 at 3:28 pm

Really good point! I’m not 100% convinced about the overpronation fix thing either, but it hadn’t occurred to me before that I could even TRY retraining my feet.

And you’re totally right that there can always be accidents. But it would be great if people’s normal running routines never injured them!

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Jill June 25, 2013 at 9:52 am

I’ve just recently heard about Chi Running and connected with a few Chi experts on Facebook (one of them is Damian Stoy). I’m really interested in learning more and attending a workshop bc it seems I get the same injuries over and over – shin splints, tendonitis, knee issues. And I will try anything to get and stay healthy! I think I’ll go to the library and pick up this book!
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