I read Chi Running years ago. At the time I was doing a lot of running, and reading pretty much every book I could get my hands on. I remember that Chi Running talked about doing away with the heel strike (when you land on your heel and roll your foot to your toes) in running and thought it was interesting. I didn't have time to go further with it then, so I thought I'd revisit it.
Now, it's about 10 years later. The mid-foot strike (landing with a flatter foot) is more in vogue, and I'm a decade older.
I'm getting back into running, so I thought I'd pull out the Chi Running book again and see if there was anything new in there I could learn. I don't have any aspirations of being in the olympics or setting world records, but what I do have is a desire to enjoy running without getting injured.
“Your speed will be a function of your ability to relax more deeply, not your ability to push harder.”
– Danny Dreyer – Chi Running
What is Chi Running?
Chi Running's writer, Danny Dreyer set out in a quest to combine running with tai chi. Tai chi is a martial art that is most commonly know for relaxation and control. It also stresses balance, coordination, and breathing. I did some tai chi when I was in university (24 form, 88 form, sword, fan, and a little Chen style). I got into it for the relaxation, but soon found how it could easily take a lifetime to master, as you worked to spend time making each form just right, and then chaining them together.
Chi Running takes a lot of those key concepts and incorporates then into his recommendations in the book. The basis for the technique is to use good posture, along with relaxation to help you run with less effort, and less stress on your joints.
Danny Dreyer, author or Chi Running, gives the backstory:
YouTube link (2:33)
What I like about the book
There are some great things in the book. There's plenty of good information throughout the book, and it's well explained. I feel like it takes a little searching sometimes to find the information I'm after and would have like to have seen a different layout. Perhaps something that reads more like a manual than a book. Other than that, I'm happy with the content.
Here are some things that stood out for me while reading.
PRE (Perceived rate of exertion)
Danny talks about perceived rate of exertion (PRE) in the book. The PRE really just says how hard something “feels” to you. It's not measuring anything tangible like a heart rate or calories burned. Instead, it just asks you, “On a scale of 1 to 10, how hard does this feel right now?”
I like how he talks about this and his workarounds. He gives an example of how running bending feels (and is) much harder to do. He then shows how good posture will make your run more enjoyable. The obvious result is that something you enjoy doing has a better chance of happening, because it feels like you're doing less.
The book focuses on the right stuff
He talks about 3 focus areas:
- Maintain good posture
- Keep joints open and loose
- Removing tension from your body
Those areas are pretty much everything I want to get out of running. The rest of the book goes through his tips on how to make all of that a reality. I like that Chi Running focuses on form and relaxation. That's the kind of thinking that helps you enjoy what you're doing and prevent injuries at the same time. It's great.
I remember when I first started running – probably around 10 years ago. I would constantly have tense shoulders and arms. A friend of mine gave me a simple tip of letting my arms drop to my sides and wiggle them gently. Such a simple tip, but it helped me to get rid of a lot of tension during my runs. I still show that tip to people I run with, because it's awesome. A lot of the other tips in the book are like that. Simple, but I could feel the results immediately.
I used to struggle during my runs, but once I learned to relax a bit and enjoy them, my perceived rate of exertion went down, and I felt like I could run forever.
I love looking at the fundamentals in the book. Here's a quick list of what they are.
- Great posture
- Relaxed limbs
- Loose joints
- Engaged core muscles
- A focused mind
- Great breathing technique
How does it sound to go out and focus on this list for a few hours per week while you run. The book goes on to say that, “The benefits are the same as the fundamentals.” I like that everything you're focusing on while running translates over to pretty much everything else you do in your life.
I also like that connections are made between some of the different fundamentals. Dreyer talks about how tension makes it harder to breathe. So, if you reduce the tension in your body, you breathing automatically improves along with it.
How to learn the new technique
Everything laid out in the book as far as picking up the skills you need are all really reasonable. You pretty much learn all the important things and then you go out on some runs. Each run you choose a few things to concentrate on and try to improve it. It's a lot like tai chi. You start out learning how to do everything and then you try to refine things a little bit each time you're going through the actions.
Once you get your form down, you can start running farther and faster. The cool thing about this method is that it doesn't feel much harder to run faster. Instead of pushing off harder, you focus on relaxing more and lengthening your stride behind you.
I'm still working on my technique, but I've been really happy with how things are going so far.
Chi Running App
There's an app out for Chi Running.
The app focuses on the features you learn about in the book. That's a plus. It can remind you of your focus areas to help you improve your posture and form.
The only thing for me is that I already have a fitness watch with GPS, that tracks runs too.
The Chi Running app:
- Shows correct posture
- Reminds you of “Focus” areas
- Records your runs
- Has a built in metronome for cadence
This is the company's video:
My overall thoughts
I really enjoyed the book. I'm also working to bring my running style in line with the Chi Running philosophy. I'm enjoying it so far, because it all makes a lot of sense. The are time during my day when I do the alignment exercise from the book and straighten my posture. I'm not out running, but I'm already starting to get used to doing everything with better posture.
Chi running is one of those books where you can take as little or as much out of it as you want. I'll let my results speak for themselves as I continue to move through my running challenge of 10k in 40 minutes. I'm well on my way to doing good things, and I know I'll have awesome results before my races in February 2017.
Thanks so much for reading.