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Elements of ChiRunning Efficiency

Recently … I was in an exchange online with another running coach in which I questioned the logic of essentially this statement, paraphrased here for clarity: “If a running technique creates more forward (falling) pull, it is therefore more efficient.” There was no consideration for the effort required to create more forward pull or to manage that pull without resistance or to defining the running context.

An analogy to this statement might be “If a sailboat uses a bigger sail, it is therefore more efficient”. If you have ever sailed a boat you know that changing weather, tides, currents, skipper, crew, etc., etc. all affect the boat moment by moment.

The identity of this “coach” is not really relevant, and I am thankful this person has nothing to do with ChiRunning. This type of absolutist dogma is hardly coaching. But then it got a little more embarrassing. When I suggested there is more to running efficiency than any one form element in isolation, I was shocked to be asked what else besides the forward pull contributes to running efficiency?

My answer here to that question is EVERYTHING else contributes to running efficiency. Efficiency is determined by comparing all inputs to all outputs. Everything; every effort, action or “job” and conditions at that moment affects the inputs consumed or the outputs created or both. Plus many “jobs” affect other “jobs”. So to isolate one job and generate an overall conclusion seems rather simplistic.

The benefit in any small efficiency increase is magnified when the activity is repetitive. This is the same reason an assembly line is meticulously considered, tested and adjusted prior to a production “run”. Things such as required downtime (recovery) and repair (injury) are also commonly included in a measure of assembly line efficiency.

When we run or walk, the assembly line output is simply one more step. But not all steps are the same. Is the step at a training pace the same as a step at race pace or at outright speed? Is the step on a flat the same as a step on an uphill or downhill? Or on a technical trail? So when we learn technique, we develop many assembly lines we can tap into for the current conditions and objectives. We also determine an awareness for our own unique assembly lines and how each contributes to our bottom line at the end of the day, week, month, year, or lifetime.

When running or walking, we are mainly concerned with two “job” categories:

  • Maintain position
  • Support/create forward motion

A few ideas on maintaining position efficiently:

  • Is my posture aligned so I am carrying my weight on structure (skeleton) or are muscles tensing to maintain my position?
  • Are my feet landing/loading on the whole foot so my lower leg can relax and again use structure or are muscles engaged?
  • Are my feet landing/loading straight forward to reduce rotation/tension or I am creating torque on the knee/lower leg?
  • Is my knee “soft” when landing/loading to limit quad effort or does the knee bend?
  • Is my pelvis level and stable by position or are excess muscles engaged?
  • Is my foot landing/loading along a line to stabilize my shoulders or do my shoulders shift from side to side?
  • Do my shoulders hang relaxed off of the posture line -or- do I tense my shoulders up or back?

A few ideas on supporting/creating forward motion efficiently:

  • Do I engage the pull of gravity forward -or- do I power myself with toe-off, reach or pawback?
  • Do I have just enough subtle forward lean for my desired speed or I am leaning too much and out of balance with tension?
  • Do I cooperate with the force of the approaching ground by allowing my feet to land more under me or do I create resistance by overstriding?
  • Do I relax my foot and ankle hinge or create resistance to my forward fall with tension?
  • Do I allow my heels to float up behind me enough so my leg (pendulum) swings forward easily or do my legs stay long and difficult to turn over?
  • Do I limit effort in my legs while in the air -or- do I create unnecessary actions such as dorsiflexion or plantar flexion?
  • Do I limit effort to staying balanced in the horizontal direction or do I expend energy in the vertical direction?
  • Do I swing my arms (pendulum) efficiently at 90 degrees -or- do I let my forearms hang or pump my arms?
  • Do I swing my arms (pendulum) efficiently -or- do I cross my center line or rotate my shoulders?
  • Does my arm swing (rearward) support balance in my forward fall?
  • Does my arm swing add rotational balance to my pelvic rotation/hip extension?
  • Does the relaxation in my hips allow for this pelvic rotation/hip extension for added stride length to the rear or do I hold my hips stiff?
  • Does increased relaxation in my legs allow for my heels to float up more by recoil or do I tense the legs/hamstrings and add resistance?
  • Does increased relaxation in my hips allow for my leg to come forward more by hip extension recoil or do I have to actively pull the leg forward?
  • Do I slowly migrate towards an efficient cadence range -or- is my slow cadence resulting in excess effort to maintain position?
  • Do I allow pelvic rotation/hip extension to balance cadence and stride length -or- is my cadence very fast resulting in high turnover effort?
  • Do all of these actions take place with just the right amount of effort or is there extra unnecessary effort/resistance?

A few other ideas on efficiency:

  • Do I breathe fully or restrict it in someway?
  • Do I balance effort from left to right?
  • Do I balance effort across the whole body or do I ask one part of my body to do a relatively big job?
  • Do I support the above points with a congruent mindset or do I use the mind one way and expect the body to mirror another way?
  • Do I have mental relaxation or I am in “fight or flight”?

Will any one of these potential efficiency ideas make your running more or most efficient? Maybe, maybe not. The point here is that there is a big difference between saying “I applied this change(s) to my running form and I feel more efficient” vs. “This one aspect of this running form makes it more efficient than another running form.”

Still an experiment of one. Always will be.

Learn more about the above Elements of ChiRunning Efficiency and reducing discomfort, aches/pains and injury in this online video: ChiRunning Simplified! Efficient and Injury Free Natural Running Technique


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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 Monday, Feb. 14th 2011 7:34 AM | by echifitness | in All, ChiRunning, ChiWalking | 1 Comment »

One Comment on “Elements of ChiRunning Efficiency”

  1. EnerChi Fitness Blog – Chi Running Common Challenges, Lean Says:

    […] efficient you are in this lean while staying relaxed and balanced is one of the many concepts (See: Elements of Running Efficiency) that can determine how efficient you are in your […]

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