Chi-Running: the key to running efficiency

What exactly is Chi Running and how can it improve your technique? Master Instructor Gray Caws offers the following expert advice.

Chi-Running: the key to running efficiency

What is Chi Running?

Chi Running takes age-old movement principles from T’ai Chi to create simple but effective running drills, exercises and visualisations. You don't need to understand T’ai Chi to practice Chi Running, it is just a common-sense approach to practice. Chi Running teaches proper biomechanics and encourages body awareness. It focuses on optimal alignment, relaxation and balance in mind and body.

The basic principles of Chi Running are alignment and relaxation, cooperation with force and gradual progress, combined in a mindful, process-orientated practice. Chi Running aims to improve efficiency of breath and movement, reduce the risk of getting injured and bring a sense of enjoyment into your training.

Do you need to change your running style?

Chi Running is not about sticking a running ‘style’ on your body but about facilitating an understanding of how you can improve your form. Chi Running doesn’t necessarily mean you need to re-train totally. Most runners a likely doing some element of Chi Running in their practice. Do not think of Chi Running as a new method to learn, rather a progression of many small improvements in your practice.

The first ‘trick’ is very simple – be aware of what you are doing when you are running. Be in the moment and enjoy yourself, rather than blocking out ‘the pain’ with music, thinking about the latest plot-line in Eastenders, or using your run to simply get fit even though you hate every minute of it!

Our body’s alignment has been moulded by years of physical, psychological and psychosocial influences. By understanding where we are now in terms of our movement patterns and bringing awareness into our everyday lives, regular practice of Chi Running drills and exercises can improve efficiency and hence improve performance.

Think in terms of improving the biomechanics of the whole body rather than changing individual elements. Rather than tell a runner where best to land the foot, foot strike should be a consequence of optimal alignment of the whole body. This takes time and effort and is not something that can ‘changed’ quickly.

How important is core strength?

The question that we should perhaps be asking is what is core strength? And what indeed is the core? I have runners who think that simply pulling in and tightening their stomach is ‘activating the core’ but this is not the case.

In fact this can actually be damaging to the body and restrict movement. In Chi Running and Tai Chi the body’s centre of gravity, an area within the pelvic bowl, is referred to as the lower dantien. Connecting the upper and lower body through this area should encourage a reactive ‘engagement’ of deep core muscles. Consider also that core endurance would be more beneficial for runners than core strength.

Is Chi Running good for injury?

If you are injured then you must first make sure you are fully recovered before you return to running. Chi Running aims to reduce the risk of injury by teaching proper biomechanics but no movement practice can guarantee that you will never get injured. That’s down to you. Pushing too much, stressing the body too much, over-training, lack of recovery, not being mindful – all can lead to injury regardless of any technique you are practicing. 

What's the best way to start Chi Running?

People have different ways of learning. Some people are more visual so learn from watching, others more oral and learn from verbal cues. Others prefer kinaesthetic learning – learning from doing. 

A book is a good starting point but words can often be misinterpreted so a combination of learning methods including small-group or 1-2-1 training with a coach is a great way to get the full benefits. Of course we have to bear in mind our own goals, budgets etc.

I would suggest reading the books, watching genuine youtube videos presented by certified instructors and working with a certified Chi Running Instructor. You can find a full list of UK & Ireland instructors and a calendar of up-coming events at www.chirunning.uk/learn

Gray Caws is a Master Instructor and Director of Chi Running UK & Ireland. For more information visit graycaws.uk