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ChiRunning Common Challenges, Core

When I first started applying the ChiRunning® principles back in the early 2006, I read the part about engaging the core and was exposed to it in my first workshop. Even with all the focus on this point, for some reason it did not become a primary focus of mine. To some degree I thought I could get by without that piece of the puzzle.

Now I know better. Although I was able to make considerable progress during this time, not focusing on the core hindered me in a number of ways. Now I know first hand that engaging the core (lower abdominals below the belly button) to efficiently level the pelvis is a big key to ChiRunning. This one point supports everything else, it is like the pin or bolt that holds the whole vehicle together.

Just a few of the many things an engaged core and a level pelvis does:

  • Improves alignment of the natural S-curve in the lower back which reduces stress and tension in the back, glutes, hips, etc.
  • Stabilizes the pelvis from side to side which reduces stress on the hip joint and IT Band. It is stabilized due to its level position while limiting muscular effort in the low back, hips and pelvis to hold it in place.
  • Limits the ability to bend at the waist (see recent blog post: ChiRunning Common Challenges, Lean) which results in a very inefficient lean.
  • Promotes feet and knees that point forward. When the pelvis is tilted forward, the feet tend to point outward which can result in rotation and stress all along the leg to the foot.

Overall an engaged core/level pelvis stabilizes your position from one muscle group, the lower abs below the belly button. The first challenge is isolating just the lower abs; and not tensing the upper abs or glutes. The second challenge is strengthening the lower abs. The third challenge is using them in motion (walking then … running). The benefit is that muscle group happens to be nicely tucked out of the way of any motion necessary to move. This allows you to move or flow with less resistance. So you have two options:

  • Isolate the lower ab and efficiently level/stablilize the pelvis, or:
  • Maintain an unstable position with more muscle which results in additional effort and resistance to your motion.

The two key ChiRunning concepts are alignment and relaxation. The more aligned you are (see blog post: 4 Components of Alignment), the more relaxed you can be. The balance between these two concepts is described nicely in the principle of “Needle In Cotton” (ChiRunning page 35). Imagine a tempered needle through your center surrounded by cotton. The needle is your aligned structure; and your cotton is your relaxed everything else. If you want to run with relaxed cotton, you will need a strong needle. If you want to run farther, you will need a strong needle with endurance. If you want to run faster, you will need a stronger needle to maintain just a bit more lean.

But here is the best part: When you focus more (effort) on your needle, the more relaxed your cotton gets. I experienced this on a few runs recently. Essentially when you focus on the core, you distract effort and tension from everywhere else. As soon as I shift my focus, I take off with little additional effort.

I am currently undertaking a whole new level of focus on isolating core strength. I have made a lot of progress in the past five years; running injury free … farther and faster. But to get to my next level, I know that my core will again be a important piece of the puzzle. My program consists of:

  • Lower Abdominal Exercise (ChiRunning page 73) and Additional Core Strength Exercises with increasing levels of motion (these are all summarized here: Leveling the Pelvis).
  • More core exercises such as planks and others done on exercise balls, stability discs and bosu balls.
  • Engaging and isolating the lower ab as I sit and walk all day long. Note the same principles also apply to ChiWalking®. A great time to practice engaging and isolating the lower ab is during this slower motion.
  • Replicating that isolation on my runs.

Whatever level you are currently at; consider avoiding what I did early on. Do not neglect the core …


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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, Apr. 28th 2011 3:35 AM | by echifitness | in All, ChiRunning, ChiWalking, Fitness | 1 Comment »

One Comment on “ChiRunning Common Challenges, Core”

  1. Karl Says:

    This is a good post. I have been focusing on my core using yoga and Foundation training. I have come to think of the “tilting the pelvis” and “lean” as being a kind of vertical plank from yoga. A well-aligned ChiRunning posture has the feel, to me at least, of the core and spine in a well-maintained yoga plank. The hip looseners and hamstring lengthening exercises in yoga also help cultivate the “cotton” part of the ChiRunning form.

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