As you know, I think my running form sucks. This running journey has been back-asswards for me. About 3 ½ years ago, I started running with no knowledge of anything. Since that time, I’ve had to back track and actually learn stuff that “real” runners know. Like most things in life, there is some rhyme and reason to doing it right. Who knew?
When the Chi Running folks contacted me and asked if I wanted to attend their workshop taught by founder Danny Dreyer in Denver, I was all over it. I had had been reading the Chi Running book. All I can say is this stuff really made sense to me. I began to see how my form not only led to my injuries, but actually sabotaged me as a runner. I understood that if I tweaked some things I might be able to become more efficient and actually enjoy running more because it felt good. Imagine that! Confession: It’s been awhile since running really felt good for me.
Here are some elements of “good” form (not from Chi Running, but in line with what they teach):
First of all, “Chi” simply means “energy” of mind, body and spirit. You don’t have to meditate, sip herbal tea and chant Ohms all day to enjoy what Chi Running has to offer. I see it as a way to marry your mind and body to produce the best running results.
The basics of Chi Running:
- Posture is in straight line from crown of your head to the bottom of your feet.
- Lean is forward (not hunching, but maintaining a straight posture and falling forward). Let gravity work for you, not against you. Feet land under hips in a mid-foot strike.
- Don’t push off with calves or quads. Don't pull with hamstrings.Your legs support your stride, but the effort comes from your core.
- Allow your pelvis to naturally rotate (think of when you were a kid and you would run at the pool. The lifeguard would scream “WALK” and you would change to a walk but would keep the same momentum, with your pelvis moving all over the place - or “rotating” - if you want to use the right word).
- Elbows at 90 degrees, driving back.
- Cadence stays steady regardless of speed (180 steps per minute is optimal). To increase speed, increase stride length, but not in front – behind you.
The workshop started with about 43 of us sitting in chairs in a bathhouse in Denver. Meeting at a bathhouse freaked me out because the only other bathhouse I’d ever been to was in Istanbul, Turkey when I was 16. That bathhouse was full of very large, naked women who were there to exfoliate and massage tourists. Talk about being out of your comfort zone. Anyway, this bathhouse wasn’t full of naked women – it was more of just a nice meeting facility. Thank God. I don’t know how I would find my mid-foot strike while exfoliating.
For the first hour or so, Danny had us figure out how to sit up using our cores to hold us. Try it. Slouch in your chair like you usually do when you're holding the remote and drinking a beer. Now try pulling yourself up with your core muscles, or the area behind your belly button. This is the part of you that should be engaged always while running.
Here Danny is talking about my supple hips. If only.
After this, we went outside an practice our forward leans by trusting our partners as we fell forward. After awhile, it was easy to get comfortable leaning forward and catching yourself with your foot as you broke into a run.
We broke for lunch and during this time Danny talked SHOES. A question on everyone’s mind. While he does not promote a certain shoe, he does promote how your foot should land. Chi Running is about landing under your hips in a mid-foot strike. Danny believes that heel striking not only causes the runner to “brake” while they run, but it sends shock waves up into the body causing injury. When buying a shoe keep in mind:
- The shoe should be light, not over 14 ounces. Generally the more a shoe weighs, the stiffer it is. A more neutral shoe (vs. stability, motion control) will teach your foot do do what it needs to do.
- The toe box does not cramp your foot, but gives your toes room to spread. Toes should not touch the front of the shoe.
- Hold the shoe and try to bend it. It should bend in the ball (front) area of the shoe. If it bends in the middle it will overstretch the muscles at the bottom of the foot and could cause Plantar Fasciitis.
My Brooks Cadence have a pretty nice bend to them.
For the record, he’s not a big fan of Newtons, even though he owns a pair. He states that he was able to run faster in those shoes, but doesn’t like how they “force” a fore-foot strike because of the bars built into the front of the shoe. He believes that any shoe that “makes” your foot do something is not the way to go. The runner should train their feet to feel the ground and land correctly and not depend on a shoe for that.
He also chatted and signed some books. I just found out Danny is 62. He must Chi run to the fountain of youth everyday or something.
After lunch, it was time to take what we had learned and put it into action. We did a million drills where you would start by running in place, feet landing under hips. We would step according to the tempo kept on a metronome and the cadence was 180 bpms (beats per minute). While running in place, we would start to lean forward and beginning running for real.Danny reminded us to keep our legs moving behind us like a wheel. Knees should never drive forward. We did an exercise where we would run in place in front of a stone wall. If knees were too far forward we would scrape them. I was a bloody mess.
Through these drills, I started to get the feeling of what it meant to put it all together. For short spurts, I could feel my quick cadence and light steps. I could tell this was going to take a lot of practice, but felt I had the basics down. We also worked on how to keep your cadence the same but in increase your speed.
Here, my knee should not be driving so much forward.
Here, I need more forward lean and arm movement.
Clearly, I still have some work to do,but I’m getting there. It was a long 7 ½ hour day. I was pooped and overwhelmed by the end. I knew that I had some skills to take with me and to work on. The Chi Team gave me a couple of other goodies to help to keep me on track:
I haven't watched the DVD yet, but I’ve read most of the marathon book. I think this would be a very useful tool for the next time I train for a marathon.
After the fact: In the past two weeks I’ve really been able to move to a mid-foot strike and to increase my cadence. It is slow going and often quite frustrating. I am feeling other parts of my body react to the changes, like my calf muscles are really tight. I think that these are “good” growing pains.
One thing I do think should be emphasized more in the workshop is that running will not feel effortless immediately. It will take quite some time to implement the changes and for them to feel natural. I have to admit I’ve gotten kind of frustrated trying to be so damn patient and deliberate. I don’t think that Danny and the team drove this point home enough.
Conclusion: Overall, the approach makes sense for me, given my injury history. If you are running pain and injury free, then clearly what you are doing is working for you – “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” right? However, if you are finding yourself repeatedly sidelined due to injury, or you feel your technique is not as efficient as it could be, Chi Running might be worth checking out. Keep in mind that running form is only one part of the injury prevention equation. You also have to train smart, which means not doing too much too soon and recovering and resting well.
Have you attempted to make running form changes? How has this worked for you?
If you have been injured, what do you think was the cause? For me, I think it was a combination of poor form and training errors.
Note: The opinions expressed in this post are mine and mine alone. While the Chi Running people paid for my workshop fee, I was not asked to do a review or encouraged to write certain impressions of the day.