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How Should We Run? (Part 1)

There are many opinions on running technique ranging from “don’t mess with you technique” to a “purist” mentality promoting only one particular approach.   So how should we run?

[Here is that ‘Should’ word again (see post Should We Run Barefoot?).  Personally I am not a fan of this word, but using it again here to make a point.]

The point: Only you can really answer that question for yourself.  The answer is generally more appropriate when it is your Internal conclusion.  ‘Should’ would likely be based on an External expectation.

But before we can answer that question, we might each consider two other questions first:
1.  Why do I run?
2.  Why am I running today or in this very moment?

The first question is more about why you are a runner.  Are you a runner for fitness, to attain a health or other goal, to be social, to enjoy nature, to be competitive at your chosen distance or some combination or other?  This is a longer term view.

The second question is about what are you trying to accomplish right now.  Are you working on strength, speed, endurance, technique, efficiency, preventing injury, enjoyment, relaxation or some combination or other?  This is a short term view.

Once you have these answers, it may then be time to consider how you would run to support your objectives.  As Stephen Covey has suggested, “begin with the end in mind” (Habit #2, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People).

Animals in Nature

If you watch animals in nature, they all change their running technique depending on the current situation. If they are hunting, or avoiding being hunted, it is usually about speed via muscle.  This is fight or flight; it is stress.  When they are trying to move from place to place, it is all about efficiency.

Animals in nature have a keen sense for effort, stress and risk. They instinctively know that their mobility is directly tied to their longevity.  If they are in-efficient today, the probability of success tomorrow decreases.  If they injure themselves, the probability of survival is decreased to an even greater degree.  Overall, average effort, stress and (self-imposed) risk are minimized.

Athletes in Nature

If you watch athletes, they also change their technique depending on the current situation:
– Running onto the field: efficiency, relaxation
– Rounding the bases after a home run: enjoyment
– Beating out a bunt: speed, ‘fight or flight’

So are ‘runners’ any different?; sprint vs. short/middle distance vs. endurance vs. fitness.  Same technique?  If your answer is no then the next question might then be “How do I run?” and “Is there risk in my technique vs. my objectives?”

[There is an another whole topic of whether running technique changes when terrain changes.  Running up or down a hill presents a different balance of forces acting on us, so to run the same way may again add unnecessary effort, stress and/or risk.]

If the conclusion is that technique does change based on the situation, then it would seem conflicts exist with both 1) not focusing on technique at all and 2) a “purist” mentality with only one ‘right’ way to run.

I will suggest to you that we, as creatures of nature, are no different than ‘animals’ in nature. The difference is that we no longer need to be mobile to survive in the short term.  So we can takes risks,  skip steps, accept ‘no pain, no gain’, and over-stress our bodies.  But we have all heard how stress affects our health.  Excess stress in the form of “flight or flight”, discomfort, aches/pains, injury, lack of enjoyment and lack of sufficient motion is affecting our longer term health and overall well-being.

I recently read a running article that suggested the very stressful “fight or flight” response results whenever the muscles of our feet are engaged or tense.  What if that is true?

Next time we will look at some of the common components of running technique and how they might affect effort, stress and risk.

[See these posts for more on this subject: ChiRunning Simplified! Video, Differences Between Pose Method and ChiRunning.]


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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, Nov. 4th 2009 5:58 PM | by echifitness | in All, ChiRunning, Fitness | No Comments »

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