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ChiRunning Common Challenges, Lean

One of the key ChiRunning® principles is to cooperate with external forces, using them to your advantage whenever possible. The external force of gravity can be used to your advantage for propulsion if you can get your center of mass (COM) out in front of your feet. How 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 ChiRunning.

Here is a summary diagram of the ChiRunning mid-stance (or loading) position which supports an efficient lean with alignment, relaxation and balance.

Below are three common “positional” challenges to experiencing this efficient lean. Note there are many other contributing factors to an efficient lean and efficient running, such as relaxation in the ankle/foot hinge and an efficient arm swing to name only two.

1.  Leaning too much. To start it is just an inch or two of lean with a subtle catch on each step and no need to apply the brakes. Brakes can be applied by either tensing the feet, ankles, legs, back or by overstriding in an effort to control the lean. If you feel like you are going to fall, you are likely leaning too much. If you are having trouble relaxing, you are likely leaning too much.

Adjustments: “Lean less” until you feel more relaxed and balanced and make sure you are using your armswing to add balance. Also be sure to practice with no expectation of speed; the key is to sense relaxation and develop balance first.

2.  Leaning forward (bending) at the waist. Leaning forward (bending) at the waist results in an inefficient lean and contributes very little forward pull. This position takes you out of alignment and increases mainly lower back, hip and quad muscle usage. This position is often combined with jutting the chin forward. Tension in the mid-section tries to maintain this position.

Adjustments: Think “lean less”, and consider a straight column with the back crown of the head to the sky or the concept of “lengthening the back of the neck”. A level pelvis with an engaged lower ab will also help minimize bending at the waist.

3.  Leading with the hips/waist. Leading with the hips/waist also results in an inefficient lean and contributes less forward pull. This position again takes you out of alignment and increases mainly hip, hip flexor, lower back, glute and piriformis muscle usage. In this position, the hips want to slide forward with each step. Tension in the mid-section tries to control this motion and maintain the position. Apprehension in the mind about falling may also be “holding you back”, so to speak.

Adjustments: Again, think “lean less” from the hips/waist and more from the whole body (column). Practice adding subtle amounts of additional lean to build confidence and balance. Get a body sense for your posture without a lean to verify what shoulders aligned with hips aligned with ankles feels like. You can ask someone or check yourself in a mirror.

The key to leaning is an efficient lean from the ankles. Efficiency comes from alignment, relaxation and balance so there is limited resistance to a subtle forward fall. Once your alignment is compromised, then tension is created. Once your balance is compromised, then tension is created. This is your practice – finding balance in your window of lean, both physically and mentally. In general, it is less lean (“lean less”) than you think. It is not so much about the lean amount as it is about the ability to stay relaxed and to go with a given lean in balance.

Learn more about running alignment, relaxation and balance in this brief intro video: ChiRunning Simplified! Efficient and Injury Free Natural Running Technique

Note the same principles and challenges described here also apply to ChiWalking®.


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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 MeContact page or his website at

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



Posted on Thursday, Mar. 17th 2011 9:34 AM | by echifitness | in All, ChiRunning, Gravity | No Comments »

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