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ChiRunning Common Challenges, Effort

The ChiRunning® approach is form first, then distance, then speed “happens” indirectly by tuning your alignment, relaxation and balance along this path. The more aligned you are, the more relaxed you can be. The more relaxed you are via “less” effort, the less likely you will be pulled out of alignment (See related blog post 4 Components of Alignment). This relates to both your position and your motion.

Your position is all about your posture and position relative to gravity. Your motion is what you do to stay balanced in that position while limiting resistance. One of my key challenges is helping people body sense “less” effort in some muscle groups when their habit is “more” effort or their mindset is running is “hard”. More effort can be less efficient but can also result in more resistance from added tension or reaching/braking. You are on the gas more and on the brake more which has some obvious effects.

Here are four common areas of excess effort that can result in resistance:

Lower Legs: An active lower leg will generally push off with the toes. This is a relatively small part of the body doing a very big job, it likely also creates a follow-through that results in an overstride (brake) and it can result in a tense ankle hinge adding resistance to your forward fall.

Quads: An overly active quad will lift the upper leg vertically, promote a reach or overstride and possibly even snap the knee which may result in a heel strike.

Shoulder/Back: An overly active shoulder (arm swing) forward may result in the elbow coming forward of the ribs or allow the shoulder to rotate forward. With either of these it is very likely the opposite leg will also reach forward. The phrase “as above, so below” governs this upper body, lower body relationship.

Hamstrings: Hamstrings are noted last since excess effort here is usually the result of an overstride. Remove the overstride and this effort is usually limited. If the foot lands forward, then the hamstring has the option to pull or tug (called “pawback”) with each step. As the foot lands more under the body, this option to pull or tug rearward is reduced. It is also possible for excess hamstring effort to exist during heel lift. Heel lift is a subtle effort bending of the knee to keep up with your forward fall; which can occur more and more passively with greater levels of relaxation.

One way to reduce effort in these areas is to provide an experience that helps someone be aware of what they are doing. This is the direct method. For the lower legs a key exercise is the Sand Pit Exercise or sensing additional pressure in the forefoot. For the quads a key exercise is the Knee Bending Exercise against a wall. For the shoulder a key exercise might be limiting forward motion passed the ribs or holding the shoulders with my hands.

Another way to reduce effort is to provide an alternate focus point which results in more effort elsewhere. This is a more indirect method using a distraction. For the lower legs this might be focusing solely on the arm swing or on reducing tension in the hands/forearms. For the quads this might be imagining you are in bike clips and you can only pick up on the pedals. For the shoulders this might be a focus on elbowing (touching) the person behind you; and then relaxing and letting gravity return the elbow to the rib.

The rewarding part about instructing is finding the combination of focuses and body senses that can work for each individual. As a person becomes more aware of their tendencies and a “combination” to change them, they move further along in their “practice”.

Remember, “less is more” is a key phrase. In ChiRunning you are essentially creating a supportive position with a motion to stay balanced while limiting resistance to you subtle forward fall. Learn how the reduce muscular effort with ChiRunning 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, May. 5th 2011 12:11 PM | by echifitness | in All, ChiRunning, ChiWalking | No Comments »

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