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ChiRunning®: A Balance of Float vs. Flow

This post is about subtle changes in mindset making dramatic changes in running efficiency, both in the hills and on the flats. A few days ago Danny Dreyer, creator and author of ChiRunning®/ChiWalking®, posted a blog entitled “Training Program for a 10K Trail Race” about event-specific training for a very hilly 10K he has coming up in August. See the blog reference link below.

At the end of this post he refers to a ChiRunning Article “Float and Flow: Using the Elements to Run Hills”; see the article reference link below. Since I have a very hilly ultramarathon coming up (this weekend), I decided to focus on this ‘float’ and ‘flow’ terminology on a few final training runs before the event. Over the course of a few very hilly trail runs I periodically asked myself ‘how can I float more?’ and ‘how can I flow more?’ In the noted article, the concept is to focus on floating more uphill and focus on flowing more downhill.

Floating is the concept of using the upper body more and reducing effort in your lower body/legs. You use your alignment to maintain the pull of gravity up the hill – and, yes, it is possible to fall up a hill. Flowing is the concept of relaxing your lower body (*) to effectively negate the potential impact when falling down a hill – just as water flows downhill.

[(*) This is the concept of being fluid in your level pelvis and allowing it to rotate back as the ground pulls the leg and hip rearward. This is referred to as pelvic rotation or hip extension.]

At one point on a training run I was reminded that it is not all float uphill and not all flow downhill.  There are elements of both float and flow in play at all times. I realized how this compliments the balancing of the two key ChiRunning concepts; Alignment and Relaxation. On flat ground, I worked to have a balance between my Alignment (floating taller in my upper body) and my Relaxation (flowing looser in my lower body).


Flat Terrain

And when on a hill, that balance needed to shift but not completely.  If on an uphill and I became too stiff in my alignment, I would tense up. I have a tendency to clench my lower back and glutes on an uphill, so staying loose is a key focus for me.


Gradual Uphill

If on a downhill and I became too soft in my relaxation, I would lose my alignment. I have a tendency to slump a bit in the mid/upper back, so staying tall is a also a key focus for me.


Gradual Downhill

I started to ask myself both questions at the same time for each section of terrain on my run. If uphill, I would consider more adjustments to float more; and downhill, I would think about more options to flow more. But keeping just the ‘right effort’ in both respects kept me efficient with minimal tension and impact. The adjustment in the balance between these two concepts allowed me to address any terrain change, even as a hill turned from gradual to very steep(**). To add float, I found the visualization of a helium filled balloon attached the back crown of my head to be very helpful. Adding a slight (mental) breeze always at your back keeps the balloon up and out over alignment. To add flow, I considering running more from my mid-back (T12/L1) and letting everything completely relax, rotate and swing from there.

Danny’s blog post and article arrived just as I needed a refresher and a new way to focus mentally; and I am looking forward to putting these questions and focuses into a longer ‘practice’ of balance this coming weekend. I highly recommend taking a look, and giving these concepts a try.

[(**) Steep uphills and downhills require additional technique changes. These are described in the ChiRunning book.]

[Note:  All of these sample principles and focuses apply to ChiWalking as well. For a complete description, see the ChiWalking Book.]


Referenced Article: Float and Flow: Using the Elements to Run Hills

Referenced Blog: Training Program for a 10K Trail Race


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David Stretanski is a holistic health, fitness and wellness coach and Certified ChiRunning®/ChiWalking® Instructor. For more information on David, please see his About Me, Contact page or his website at

ChiRunning® and ChiWalking® are registered trademarks of ChiLiving, Inc.


Posted on Wednesday, Mar. 18th 2009 9:11 PM | by echifitness | in All, ChiRunning, ChiWalking, Fitness | 1 Comment »

One Comment on “ChiRunning®: A Balance of Float vs. Flow”

  1. Hatrun 50K Ultra Summary « EnerChi Fitness Blog Says:

    […] go out slow(er), set in a good mental focus, and then stay focused on the two keys of Floating and Flowing.  At the same time, enjoy it … the day, the park, the event, the people, the […]

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