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5 Focus Areas of Running Effort

A few posts ago I described in ChiRunning Common Challenges, Effort the areas of muscular effort you might work in minimize to support your ChiRunning practice. The question then becomes: “Well, then what are the areas of muscular effort I should focus on?” Overall, the effort is less, some might call it “effortless”. But effort nonetheless.

Here are my 5 primary focus areas of muscular effort as I practice ChiRunning®:

Mental Muscle:

  • At first I needed this muscle to convince myself there was another more efficient and less stressful way to run on any terrain; and that it was possible to change with some practice and patience.
  • On each run, I maintain a focus on something related to the two key concepts of alignment and relaxation. The focus is specific, but “soft”. If I focus too hard, force it or become critical of myself; I usually tense up.
  • Sometimes I will alternate focuses, then combine them. Occasionally I will do a body scan “round robin” run.
  • It also can take some time to adjust the mental rhythm in our heads. I started out practicing with a metronome to determine and then slowly adjust my cadence into the efficiency range. I still run with a metronome at times to enhance my focus on some aspect of my motion.


  • Bottom line: Don’t forget to breathe. If I am intensely focused on perfecting multiple points, it will likely cause tension and restrict my breath.
  • If I move beyond my aerobic fitness level, I struggle to keep up. This usually results in very inefficient short breaths, limited oxygen exchange and again tension.
  • Belly breathing fully out is my key focus. I am currently working to improve my breathing efficiency by breathing in and out through the nose only. This is a slower pace run, but has greatly affected my aerobic fitness level. It also results in significant mental (ie. “zone”) benefits as well. [ref: Body Mind Sport by John Douillard]


  • This is a primary key, if not the key. When I first started ChiRunning I did not pay too much attention to this important point. Now I know better.
  • The core, or specifically the lower ab, stabilizes the pelvis and the running position very efficiently. This is the one muscle group that stays active the whole time; and therefore the one focus I need to some degree the whole time. If I add a lot of muscular effort elsewhere to accomplish stability, I will likely create resistance in my motion.
  • Recently I have come back again to isolating lower abdominal strength; it is the piece I need to get to the next level. The approach is cross training core work and an active focus while in the motion I wish to use it … walking all day long and of course running. After just a few weeks I am already experiencing a dramatic impact on my running.
  • Blog Post: ChiRunning Common Challenges, Core


  • The shoulder and the resulting arm swing to the rear provide balance.
  • ChiRunning is a practice in balance; without it there is little relaxation. Any tension creates resistance in my motion and my forward momentum.
  • I can only lean as much as I can stay balanced and relaxed. Otherwise I am just working against tension I have created. This would be the same thing as driving with my foot on the gas and the brake at the same time (blog post). When I feel tense or out of balance I come back off my lean, and I start to body sense why. I am usually leaning too much or there is some issue with my arm swing.


  • The hamstring bends the knee which creates heel lift. Heel lift allows me to pick up my feet to keep up with my subtle forward fall; and results in a circular motion of the heel as I move forward.
  • I put this muscle last because with greater and greater levels of relaxation (and therefore speed), I sense less and less effort in the hamstrings. As I relax more from my mid-back pivot point, my knees want to bend and my heels want to float up behind me virtually by themselves. All I have to do is “allow” this to occur.

That’s it. Just those 5 primary focus areas of muscular effort. In the diagram notice all the muscular effort asks big strong capable parts of the body to do small jobs. If there is a significant amount of effort elsewhere, then my technique is off. Either my position or my motion or tension has me working harder than I need to. I have convinced my mental muscle of that for sure. Seems simple and it is but it does take practice and patience to shift your effort with new habits.

[Note that ChiWalking is once again based on the same principles … and in walking I use the hamstring even less. So these are my 5 focus areas of muscular effort in walking, or ChiWalking®, as well.]


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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, Jun. 2nd 2011 3:37 AM | by echifitness | in All, ChiRunning | No Comments »

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