Developed in San Francisco, the United States in 1999, by American ultra-marathon runner & T’ai Chi practitioner, Danny Dreyer, ChiRunning is a running technique that combines the principles of T’ai Chi with the sport of running – to create a technique that shifts a runner’s focus to running with good form while reducing the usage of the leg muscles for propulsion.
ChiRunning had initially been invented because of Dreyer’s love for T’ai Chi and running. Dreyer had felt that too many runners were hurting themselves with a poor running technique. And so he had felt that the fluid movements in T’ai Chi – namely the easy, relaxed movements from the outer limbs built around a strong and stable core – could be used as the basis for low impact running and reduce injury whilst improving technique in runners at the same time. He then started experimenting with this himself, and so ChiRunning was born.
Efficient usage of energy and body movement
The main principles used in ChiRunning are to focus on alignment, relaxation and proper form when running. It emphasises posture, core strength, relaxed legs and mindfulness.
Added Lew Seng Leong Aaron, 41, a certified Master ChiRunning and ChiWalking instructor, as well as an ultra-marathoner and Ironman triathlete, “ChiRunning is essentially about the efficient usage of energy and body movement. Every running step is easy and energy efficient; it is more like a wheel rolling on the ground, without exerting much force on our legs. This increases the enjoyment of running and significantly reduces the risk of leg injuries.”
Aaron continued, “That makes ChiRunning technique differ greatly from the conventional way of running, where training is predominantly dictated by heart rates, intervals, force of muscles and so on, with minimum emphasis on running techniques, form and mind-and-body connection. This therefore makes ChiRunning revolutionary.”
Aaron also feels that the common running techniques are inefficient. He said, “Most people run inefficiently – they pound the ground way too hard, expending a lot of energy and creating a lot of impact and friction within their bodies. When they run, it would be like a hammer pounding against the ground. That is the reason why a lot of people end up with legs, back or knee problems.”
Found out about ChiRunning after an injury spell
Aaron himself found out more about ChiRunning after a nasty injury spell. He said, “I ran my first marathon at the age of 19, in 3hours and 11minutes. I became badly injured with a high running mileage training approach not too long after that. So I understand what an inappropriate training approach can do to an athlete.”
He added, “Prior to knowing about ChiRunning, most of my training runs were driven by heart rate, distance or intervals. It wasn’t till 2004 when I first heard about ChiRunning through the recommendation of Singapore’s current ChiRunning regional director, Tang Siew Kwan. I did some research and attended some ChiRunning training and therefore started to adopt the principles of ChiRunning into my own running.”
Today, Aaron is a certified ChiRunning instructor in Singapore and ChiRunning has helped him to gain a deeper understanding of injury issues and pains plaguing runners and helped him to reduce such ailments in runners.
Main goals of ChiRunning
What ChiRunning typically teaches, according to Aaron, are the principles of Energy, Efficiency and Injury Prevention. Added Aaron, “Essential components of a successful running technique include good posture, proper leg motion, balanced ratio of upper and lower body coordination, optimum running cadence and having the right mental focus.”
He added, “Also, with the use of the ChiRunning technique, we no longer need to push ourselves to run. We learn how to engage gravity, running with our entire upper and lower body in a forward leaning manner, moving our dantien (Chi-Centre) ahead of our feet, allowing the pull of gravity to propel us forward without pushing our legs. We simply fall forwards to run, all we have to do is to keep picking up our feet to keep up with the forward fall. This revolutionary approach has eliminated the need to depend on strong leg muscle conditioning and strengthening to push our bodies to run.”
Strong core muscles and good form
At the same time ChiRunning emphases on having strong core muscles to run. Said Aaron, “ChiRunning stresses the importance of good running posture and combined with the relaxation of our shoulders, arms and legs when we are running. This takes away the stresses of our lower leg muscles when we are pushing to run with our body upright. Any running that is power driven will tense up our muscles; this will increase the risk of injuries and deplete our energy quickly.”
He added “Good running form allows us to run efficiently with the pull of gravity and in the direction that we are heading. Any movement or body parts that are not aligned and not moving in the direction, requires extra energy and increases the risk of injuries in the long run.”
ChiRunning is for everyone
Aaron had recently introduced me to the basic principles and techniques of ChiRunning – at a ChiRunning workshop (ChiRunning Foundation Workshop) conducted by him. And on stepping into the workshop, the first thing that I noticed about it was that runners attending, included young runners in their teens, to the older and more mature adults. This encapsulates what Aaron says abut ChiRunning being for everyone.
Said Aaron, “ChiRunning deepens our mind and body connection and in this way, we will be able to improve ChiRunning for years to come, making it an enjoyable and sustainable activity for many years. For younger runners, ChiRunning will help them to run with proper technique and running efficiently so that they can run longer distances, run faster with less fatigue and achieve their personal bests without getting injured or burnt out in training.”
He added “And for mature runners, ChiRunning will help them to enjoy the activity for a longer duration, getting the maximum benefits of this aerobic exercise, and helping them to maintain a healthy lifestyle without the injury risks.”
The six hours ChiRunning Foundation workshop itself had comprised of both a theory and practical session – so that participants can have a good idea of what ChiRunning is all about. This workshop also included running video analyses and learning core exercises to improve our running.
The theory session had mainly consisted of introducing us to ChiRunning, and what it entails. Aaron also brought us through some of the most common running injuries, such as shin splints, plantar fasciitis and IT band pain, and explained more about how ChiRunning can help to reduce the risk of such ailments – primarily through the incorporation of T’ai Chi principles and building a strong, solid core.
Then to start off the practical session of the workshop, we completed a video analysis, firstly to look at our original running gait, after which we were introduced to the fundamentals of ChiRunning through a series of exercises.
To sum it up in a nutshell, these exercises had included practising good posture alignment, such as becoming familiar with our Chi-Centre, ankle lifting, leaning forward/moving our Chi-Centre ahead of our feet to run, arm swinging, cadence, knee bending drills, breathing exercises and pelvic rotation – these are all important principles in ChiRunning.
Many of these exercises were in fact, not too hard to master on their own. In fact when the practical exercise had started, they had felt quite achievable – and Aaron was a good teacher too, in terms of guiding the runners and ensuring that we were doing the exercises correctly, and also patiently correcting us if we were doing anything wrong.
But subsequently, though, I found that when trying to incorporate many of the exercises together at one go, that had been somewhat challenging – especially towards the second half of the workshop.
For example, when I had been trying to focus on my posture and my ankle lifting, it was quite difficult to be able to swing my arms and rotate my pelvis as well. My brain could not focus on so many things at once when I was running! I must admit that I was pretty overwhelmed as the workshop had progressed. Apparently much more practice would be required, in order for me to fully master ChiRunning. And Aaron had shared with us that in order to improve our running gradually, we need to focus on one or two ChiRunning focuses at a time, doing so will allow our body to have the time to improve and adapt to new running skills effectively.
We ended the workshop with some basic exercises to strengthen our core muscles – which is important in ChiRunning. These had included planking and crunches, before the “final test” where we had been required to run, with the concepts that we had learnt from the workshop. And Aaron had examined our second round of running video after the core exercises.
By comparing our two videos analyses, Aaron had given me the feedback that I had been very cautious and mindful of my running so that I did not lapse back into my original running patterns!
He also pointed out some of the most common ChiRunning mistakes made by those who are not so familiar with the technique. Aaron said, “The most common mistakes by novices are leaning without a straight postural alignment. Likely this is because they are leaning from the chest and not leading the body lean from the ChiCentre. When we are not aligned, we use more energy to hold our posture when running. This wastes our energy and in turn, increases the risk of injury in the long run.”
And following the workshop, I have attempted incorporating a bit of ChiRunning into my subsequent running sessions and I have realised that there is a lot to focus on – I realise that it is very easy for the mind to wander too much, and focus too much on one aspect of ChiRunning, whilst forgetting other aspects. Also, I realise that it is important to keep the running distances short as the mind will lose focus and the body may unconsciously lapse back into old running habits, if you are running for too long, and are not yet experienced with the techniques required.
Takes time to fully pick up ChiRunning
As Aaron explains, it takes time to run efficiently with ChiRunning but if done correctly under proper supervision, the amount of time taken to learn, can be sped up quickly. He says, “It varies significantly, especially when people try and figure it out themselves, they might be doing it wrongly without realising it. With guidance and proper coaching, beginners can get wonderful results in a much shorter time – from not running to becoming a jogger within 15 hours. ChiRunning is a good running technique for everyone.”
Aaron added “ChiRunning is, after all, using a holistic approach that allows us to exercise safely and efficiently. ChiRunning focuses can be practised all day long and not just when we are running or walking. For example, we can practise standing aligned and relaxed wherever we are queuing in public places. Our bodies learn best by repetition so the more often we practise it, the easier we can incorporate those focuses into running.”
Find out more about ChiRunning
To find out more about ChiRunning, you can get in touch with Aaron directly via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To experience ChiRunning for yourself, Aaron’s workshop price is SGD50 for a three-hour basic workshop.
More information about ChiRunning is also available on http://chirunning.sg.
All photos in this article are credited to ChiRunning Singapore.
This is a sponsored post.