Breathfulness is the New Mindfulness

Breathfulness is the New Mindfulness

Since we do it about 23,000 times a day, focusing on the breathe every so often throughout the day is not such a difficult task. And since “All chronic pain, suffering, and disease are caused by a lack of oxygen at the cell level” (Dr Authur C Guyton – Textbook of Medical Physiology 1956), then its not difficult to conclude that addressing dysfunction breathing is essential to our health and fitness.

Breathing is an oft-neglected aspect of fitness training programmes but it is essential that we learn to breathe efficiently to get the full benefits of training. In fact we can actually be damaging our health if we are not breathing correctly.

Here are three simple breathing practices you can incorporate into everyday life and also take take forward into your training programme.

1. Take deep, but not necessarily big breaths

It’s quite logical really. Breathe the amount of air required for your metabolic needs. For example if when sitting you took a number big, deep breaths, after a short while you would be breathing too much air for what your body is doing at that moment in time. Just as you can over-eat and drink too much you can also over-breathe. 

You do however want to be breathing deeply to activate the diaphragm, the dome-shaped muscle that divides the thoracic and abdominal cavities. Breath guru Dr Belisa Vranich suggests to visualise breathing in horizontally across the base of the ribs rather than vertically up through the chest.

Practice: Sit towards the front edge of a chair with feet on the floor and a tall spine. Start by deliberately over-breathing to active the diaphragm, taking in a big breath and driving the air deep into the lungs. Visualise breathing horizontally across the base of the ribs. Keep the belly relaxed and notice it expand as you inhale. As you exhale pull the belly in with the intention of actively expelling the air. 

Do this a couple of times then settle into soft, easy, relaxed, rhythmical, breathing. Focus now on the effortless expansion of the belly and lower ribs as you breathe in and allow the exhale to happen as a natural release through elastic recoil. 

In a resting posture breathing out requires no effort from your body unless you have a lung disease. However when you’re physically active, your abdominal muscles contract and push your diaphragm against your lungs even more than usual. This pushes air out of your lungs.

When you have establish a sense of calm, relaxed breathing, you can take this exercise a step further. As you follow your breath notice how little air you actually need for what your body is doing at this moment in time. Now, keeping relaxed, see if can can create a sense of light air hunger by breathing a little less air. 

The Oxygen Advantage Breathing method, devised by Patrick McKeown, addresses the common tendency to over-breathe, often due to mental overload and stress. This exercise is a great way of helping to re-set the brain to bring breathing volume back to a more ‘normal’ level of between four and six litres of air per minute in a resting posture.

Researchers in Sweden found that the majority of patients with chronic stress and resultant exhaustion also have disturbed breathing patterns including the habit of over-breathing. The severity of their poor breathing habits were also related to their depression, anxiety, sleep disturbances and quality of life.

2. Shut your mouth

In everyday life, sleep and aerobic physical exercise breathe in and out through your nose. The health benefits of total nasal breathing are immense including:

  • 10-20% more oxygen uptake
  • Warms and humidifies incoming air
  • Removes a significant amount of germs and bacteria
  • Can reduce risk of developing forward head posture
  • Can improve respiratory strength and encourage diaphragmatic breathing
  • Releases nasal nitric oxide produced in the nasal cavity
  • Increased focus and concentration
  • Reduces breathlessness during exercise and improves sports performance

Practice: Walking at an easy pace, keep the lips lightly together and breathe softly in and out through the nose. If you struggle with this, slow the pace or stop and rest for a short while. Then, hardly increasing the breath-rate, keeping your mouth closed, break into a very easy-paced run taking quick, light strides. If you feel you need to open the mouth, slow the pace or go back into and easy walk. 

The same applies for any endurance training at the gym. ie many reps (12-20), comfortable weights, steady rhythm.

In 1995 Morton, King, Papalia wrote in the Australian Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport. “While breathing through the nose only, all subjects could attain a work intensity great enough to produce an aerobic training effect (based on heart rate and percentage of VO2 max)”

For less-than maximum intensity training, and at all other times, nasal breathing should be employed. However mouth breathing can and should be combined with nasal breathing when training at higher intensity. Competitive athletes may spend 80% of their training with the mouth closed (80/20 rule).

3. Breathe rhythmically

Our body loves on the rhythm. It promotes a sense of ‘being in the zone’, creating focus and energy.  Breathing rhythmically has numerous health benefits since it helps to create coherent heart rate variability. 

If a doctor takes your pulse they will measure your heart beat over a certain period of time and perhaps the result is 70 beats per minute. However there are moment-to-moment variations in our heart beat that are not normally considered when average heart rate is measured. This naturally occurring beat-to-beat variation in heart rate is called heart rate variability (HRV).

“Coherent HRV is experienced as a calm, balanced, yet energised and responsive state that is conducive to everyday functioning and interaction, including the performance of tasks requiring mental acuity, focus, problem-solving, and decision-making, as well as physical activity and coordination.” https://www.heartmath.com/science/

Emotional stress – such as anger, frustration, and anxiety – creates an irregular and erratic rhythm. Whereas positive emotions create a coherent heart rhythm pattern, helping body’s systems synchronise and work with increased efficiency and harmony.

Emotional stress and mental overload all play a part in activating our body’s natural ‘fight or flight’ response. All too often we are spending time with our body preparing for danger and not enough time in ‘rest, recovery and restore’ mode.

Since breathing patterns modulate the heart’s rhythm, it is possible to create a coherent HRV simply by breathing rhythmically. Therefore smooth, rhythmical breath, regardless of what activity you are doing – resting, working, exercising, has many health benefits.

Practice: As with the exercise above start off nasal breathing as you walk and then take it into the easy run. Keep a constant cadence (strides per minutes) of between 170-180bpm. This constant cadence sets a rhythm into which the breath can settle. 

Find you own comfortable breath count. ie the number of steps per inhale and number of breaths per exhale. This will vary depending on pace, effort level, gradient, terrain, current fitness, state of mind. It is important not to force a specific count as this could induce hyperventilation. Remember as discussed above that we should be breathing to match our metabolic needs. 

Mindfulness has garnered lots of attention of the passed few years with more and more studies highlighting the benefits of a mindful practice. Breath is quite literally at the heart of mindfulness and it doesn’t take much for you to spend some time each day paying attention to your breath. It’s time now time to take up the practice of breathfulness. 

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The Power of Posture

The Power of Posture

Good posture is essential but what do we actually mean by good posture? Yip et al, 2008 describe proper posture “… to be the state of musculoskeletal balance that involves a minimal amount of stress and strain on the body”

Good posture therefore depends on an awareness of your body’s relationship to gravity. In an optimal upright standing posture your main centre of mass, an area just below the belly button and in towards the spine (in Tai Chi, lower dantien) should be balanced over your contact with the ground.

Moving upwards, the centre of gravity of your ribcage (middle dantien) and head (upper dantien) is balanced over your lower dantien. Take your time to body sense how this feels.

5 Steps to Powerful Standing Posture

  1. Stand with your feet feet hip-width apart and parallel
  2. Lengthen the spine and neck gently lifting upwards from the crown of the head
  3. Focus on your centre of gravity (lower dantien) and balance this directly over your contact with the ground
  4. Connect the dots now by balancing middle and upper dantien directly above. As a visual guide you can check side on in a mirror and look for ankle hip and shoulder in a vertical line
  5. Take a moment in this standing posture to focus on the breath. Keeping the lips lightly together and jaw relaxed notice the effortless flow of air in and out through the nose. Follow rather than force the breath.

It is important, however, to realise that posture is not to be considered as a single act or position, but a unique moment in time that captures only one possible postural position. Standing posture is a beginning, not the end to encouraging good postural alignment.  

As Katy Bowman highlights in her book Move your DNA “…correct human alignment does not imply that there is one body position that we should be using all the time. In fact, it is often our determination to maintain a ‘good’ fixed posture that is undermining our health”.

I find clients often misunderstand the meaning of a strong core, focusing only on the stomach muscles and over-tensing these to ‘keep the core engaged’ during walking and running. Over-tensing stomach muscles can have a detrimental effect on movement, breath and organs. Muscles deep in the core of the body should be reactive to movement, working accordingly to maintain structural efficiency and ‘the state of musculoskeletal balance that involves a minimal amount of stress and strain on the body’.

Avoid forcing alignment. Your current posture is a result of how you have lived, breathed, moved, played and worked since you were born. Gravitational pull shapes posture as do our emotions, how we think and feel. 

Having an awareness of current posture, how our body feels and looks is the starting point. From there you can work with a Chi Running Coach to practice simple exercise, drills and visualisations to help improve alignment.

A good manual therapist such as osteopath, physio, massage therapist and Rolfer is also invaluable as part of your practice. Unfortunately many of us don’t have the budget to see such a specialist on a regular basis. Or we often only approached one in the event of injury or pain rather than for structural maintenance.

 

Work with a certified Chi Coach

A certified coach will help you bring awareness to your body and help you discover a more efficient way of moving

Become a Chi Running Coach

Share you passion and build a business
The Chi Running Instructor Training Programme will give you the tools to deliver a simple but effective training method to help your clients improve their running technique.
Check out our Teach It page or register below to receive more information.

The programme includes a comprehensive online training course and a 4-day practical workshop.

Walking on Air

Walking on Air

Injury led me to discover a new way of walking

Beinn Bhuidhe, Argyll, November 2017

Beinn Bhuidhe, Argyll, November 2017

Since my 20s I dreaded the long walk out from climbing mountains such as Beinn Bhuidhe Argyll. My hip joints and lower back would be sore and it would take quite a few days to recover. In my 30s I rediscovered my love of trail running but – just as it had with long walks – my thighs, hips and lower back would start to get sore and I would become injured. I did the usual thing and blamed my age and my shoes, bought expensive new trainers but still no joy. I loved walking and running but I wasn’t a very happy walker or runner. Why did I reach a certain level of fitness and then get injured, only then to have to take a few months off and have to start all over again with building up my fitness levels?

Then I discovered Chi Walking (originally through doing a Chi Running workshop) and honestly, it changed everything. Who knew that my posture was so lousy, that my long, slow, heel-striking gait and side-to-side hip movement (I wasn’t even aware that I sashayed!) was playing havoc with my muscles, ligaments and joints. My body was trying to tell me something but I wasn’t listening.

I have been Chi Walking and Chi Running now for the past four years or so. I may not be the fastest walker or runner but I am most definitely a happier walker and runner. I no longer have back and hip pain and, if I remember to do my stretches after a long day on the hill, I have no aches and pains!! I, finally, have learnt to listen to my body.

Learning to walk well again

But why should someone learn how to walk properly? Surely being able to walk is something we all do naturally?

Well, yes and no. Up to about the age of five we all generally walk well but after that we can start to develop poor postures (through the shoes we wear, the amount of sitting we do, reduced activity etc) and, as a consequence, we develop poor standing and walking postures. This, in turn, means walking can start to hurt. Before you know it you have stopped walking those mountains you love so much, cut down on the length of walks with friends or stopped walking altogether.

Scientific research shows that walking is good for us on so many levels (physical and mental) and we are all being encouraged to ‘actively’ walk 10,000 steps a day or 20 minutes a day, depending on what you read. But what do you do if your walking has started hurting?

Choosing to walk differently 

As Thich Nhat Hanh says “Today, you can decide to walk in freedom. You can choose to walk differently. Many of us have been running all our life, and it has become a habit. But this morning you can make a revolution in your life. You can walk as a free person, enjoying every step”

Much of what Thich Nhat Hanh says is at the heart of Chi Walking i.e. choosing to walk differently (number four of the Five Mindful Steps in Chi Walking) and walking mindfully with body awareness and understanding.

Chi Walking can benefit all sorts of different people whatever their level of fitness or type of walking, be it the daily dog walk, ambles with friends or hill walking. It combines the wisdom found in age-old practices such as yoga and T’ai Chi together with biomechanics and physics and, therefore, there is something in it for anyone, whether you are a yoga convert or feel more comfortable with scientific fact. In essence, it makes sense whatever walk of life you are from (excuse the pun) and it offers a menu of different types of walking from slow walking meditation to fast-paced aerobic and cardio walking.

How is Chi Walking different?

Chi Walking asks you to:

  • think about your body and how it ‘feels’ when you stand and walk (the mind-body relationship)
  • understand why poor posture can create tension and stress in certain parts of your body and gives you the skills to make small adjustments that can really help you ‘feel’ the difference (body sensing)
  • examine your existing walking style and discover how an aligned, balanced and relaxed body, coupled with a shorter stride length in front, can reduce overall stress and tension leading to longer, stronger, happier walking.

Dem bones, dem bones, dem dry bones

Chi Walking is a whole body, holistic approach to walking and is just one tool in the box to feel how our body works both standing and in motion.

Different people like different things. Over the years I have been particularly drawn to Kundalini Yoga and find it complements many of the principles we find in Chi Walking (alignment and relaxation, body sensing, gradual progression and increasing energy). Recently I have discovered Restorative Exercise and have found it incredibly useful in creating deeper awareness and understanding of body alignment, biomechanics and my own body with its little foibles.

In Chi Walking, we look at alignment and how to balance our postures, we learn about foot placement and how to walk lightly. Practices such as Restorative Exercise take it further and help us understand how the feet talk to the lower legs, which in turn talk to the upper legs and so on and so on.

I have always wondered why I manage to wear through waterproof trousers (at the inner knee and inner thigh) every six months. Was it because of the quality of the trousers? Was it because I needed to lose a few kilograms? Well, maybe, but as I now have discovered I have a tendency to stand (and walk) with my feet too close together. Could this be the answer to my waterproof dilemma? On a serious note though, by being conscious of what my body is doing and how, in turn, it is affecting the rest of my body, Chi Walking – together with practices such as yoga and Restorative Exercise – has made me more mindful of how I stand and walk and it is making a big difference.

To Infinity and Beyond

I don’t know about you but I want to be able to still climbing mountains, run, do yoga etc in my 80s and onwards. To do that we need keep moving and moving well. The following quote always makes me smile and I hope it does you too:

“My grandmother started walking five miles a day when she was sixty. She’s ninety-seven now, and we don’t know where the hell she is” Ellen DeGeneres


Biddy Simpson

Biddy Simpson

Biddy Simpson
Chi Walking Instructor, Scotland.

Biddy is passionate about walking (particularly hill walking) and in helping people rediscover their love of walking. After attending a Chi Running workshop it completely changed how she ran and walked. Since then she has become a qualified Chi Walking instructor.

Learning to let go

Learning to let go

Heck, writing this blog has just stopped me in my tracks, ‘what does Chi Running mean to me? how has it influenced my life?’ was the topic I wanted to share. And for a second I thought I’d write ‘my 10k time PB is 10 minutes faster, my 5k time is 3 minutes faster, my half marathon time is down by 12 minutes’, but actually it is so much more. I’ve let ‘it’, the journey of Chi Running, develop over time, unlike most other things in my life which I tend to rush and want now, I kind of knew in the depths of my mind, the body and mind don’t change overnight, when finding Chi Running during my midst of injury I felt confident that this will be a journey, an interesting self-analysis.

I have been practicing Chi Running since I attended Jon Burdon’s workshop in 2014 and I have been teaching since the summer of 2016. Originally my practice was linked to my year of injury, shin splints and tight calves forcing me to walk on my toes, I knew my body needed to learn new habits, I knew running wasn’t painful, I knew I didn’t need new trainers. There was something screaming at me to listen, from the inside. It took, with my patience, some mental adjustments. To stop, to reassess, to allow myself to run only half a mile then three-quarters, to make a mental note of how my body felt (and forget about what was happening at work or my weekend plans), to truly pay attention to me.

[perfectpullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]You can do yoga too, engage your core, align from the crown of your head, use the forces of gravity but if your mind is not self-accepting, throwing you digs throughout the day, throughout your run, your energy will not flow.[/perfectpullquote]I race competitively and my life is surrounded by running – books, social posts, a large group of friends, a race calendar, a training calendar, dinners, Park

I race competitively and my life is surrounded by running – books, social posts, a large group of friends, a race calendar, a training calendar, dinners, Park Run and coffee – the injury allowed me to justify dipping out of the running, I felt less guilty and other runners understood. But now I wish I had made the conscious effort to practice Chi Running before the injury took hold because I knew deep down my body could be more efficient – I knew after longer runs I didn’t need to wake up the next day unable to walk. All the lovely new clients I meet now who tell me this is the sole reason they are attending my workshops – to concentrate on me – just fills me with pride. Because social pressure can be tough, and our own self-pressure can be harsher. To explain to other runners that I was training to be a Chi Running instructor received some blank looks, the occasional smirk or dismiss, lots of explanation and also much appreciated support. For some of these reasons I kept it on the low, I wanted to ‘be the change’ and not force other runners to look at their technique. I am so passionate about looking after your body, inside and out, and so my journey continued…

By no means have I ‘nailed’ Chi Running, it really is a lifelong journey, and why would we ever want the ‘me time’ to end. I have, hand on heart, embedded the practice into every run I complete, I love having my mindful hints and tips stashed in my back pocket. Not all of my runs feel amazing, what I am learning now is my body has adapted and is slowly learning and it is changing how it moves me around life, but my mind is what holds me back.

[perfectpullquote align=”left” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]What Chi Running has helped me to see, is how the mind and body can work together, we take it for granted but actually, our mind is telling us stories, stories which are not true, and our body responds to this.[/perfectpullquote]

I saw Chi Running as a physical technique, something quite tangible that you would see results from on your Garmin. So that was true, my performance has improved, my body recovers quicker. But what I didn’t expect was how it would lead me to learn so much more about myself. You can do yoga too, engage your core, align from the crown of your head, use the forces of gravity but if your mind is not self-accepting, throwing you digs throughout the day, throughout your run, your energy will not flow. Instead, you will create a blocker, mentally and physically. What Chi Running has helped me to see, is how the mind and body can work together, we take it for granted but actually, our mind is telling us stories, stories which are not true, and our body responds to this. Body sensing and gradual progression in a holistic sense – like every day, in everything we do – being kind to ourselves, internally, nutritionally, externally with rest and recovery, moving our bodies an inch at a time – this really generates a slow long-term lasting change within us. A positive calm mind, a positive relaxed aligned body. Inclusively strong.

So my Chi Running journey has begun, but only just, I’m going to continue to adapt my body, gently and generously, enjoying that freedom from the inside out, and being kind to myself, body sensing from head to toe, being positive and letting that energy flow; all of this gradually while working towards my running goals. I’d say Chi Running has allowed me to ‘be the change’ – learning to let go, mind and body, working simultaneously.


Kelly Knight

Kelly Knight

Kelly teaches Chi Running in the Midlands. For more details and to check out her upcoming workshops and guided trail runs click here to visit Kelly’s profile page.

An Introduction to Chi Running

An Introduction to Chi Running

I want to start with a visualisation – You’re heading out for a run, it’s a beautiful day, as you begin to run you feel strong, focused and relaxed. Your arms, legs, breath are all in sync. You have found your rhythm as your heels float up behind you. You feel like you are gliding over the ground, your running feels effortless and fluid, your breath is rhythmic and you feel like you could keep running like this forever… this is Chi Running at its best!

This is Chi Running for me, and I hope it will be Chi Running for you. I was introduced to the Chi Running technique six years ago by Master Instructor, Catherina McKiernan, at her Building the Foundations Workshop. She just blew my mind, it all sounded so logical and I knew straight away this was how I wanted to run.

What exactly is Chi Running?

The main objectives of Chi Running are energy efficiency, injury prevention, and to ensure running is a joyful experience. Now doesn’t that sound good? I think it’s safe to say we all want to be happy, efficient, injury free runners.

Chi Running is running with minimal effort, therefore helping to eliminate the hardship you often hear associated with running. Doing something you love shouldn’t be a hardship and, in my opinion, all runners should love to run!

By following the core principles of the Chi Running technique, achieving these objectives is a realistic goal for everyone.
The Principles of Chi Running are:

  • alignment and relaxation
  • central movement
  • cooperating with force
  • gradual progress
  • body sensing
  • a mindful approach

I’m just going to briefly talk about each one.

Alignment & relaxation

Proper postural alignment is the starting point to correct running form, this in partnership with relaxation is central to efficient and injury free running. Your body needs to be properly aligned and relaxed as you run.

Chi Running is inspired by the T’ai Chi visualisation of a ‘needle in cotton’, where the needle is the central rotational axis – from the crown of the head through the centre of the body – and the cotton is the balanced, relaxed, fluid movement of the arms and legs and the shoulders and hips. Good postural alignment is so important for spine and joint mobility, this affects you in everyday life, not just while out running.

Central movement

This teaches us to begin any movement from the body’s centre of mass as opposed to pushing forward with your legs, our ‘centre’ in terms of T’ai Chi and Chi Running is called the dantien. This is located about three finger widths down from the belly button and two inches in towards your spine. Visualise moving forward from this point allowing the lower body to follow in a relaxed fashion, focusing on the gentle engagement of the lower abdominal muscles. This keeps you balanced and stable as you move forward. Focus on the contralateral movement of the arms and legs (opposite arm to leg), finding your optimal cadence (170-180 strides per minute). As you run visualise gathering energy in your centre (Dantien) and then allowing the Chi to flow throughout the body, creating an effortless, fluid running form.

Cooperating with Force

We want to work with, not against, the force of gravity and the oncoming road. Relax into your run, with a slight lean from your ankles. This allows you to cooperate with gravity and use the oncoming road to your advantage. Relax your legs as your feet come in contact with the earth, allowing them to swing rearwards and your heels float up behind you.

You are cooperating with the forces that so many runners fight against. Run in a controlled forward fall, creating and maintaining forward momentum.

Gradual Progress

If you find you need to adapt your current running form to become a Chi Runner then this is the most important Chi Running principle for you. These changes must be subtle and happen gradually, trust me, patience is a Chi Runner’s number one virtue, but it’s absolutely worth it!

Gradual progress means you build on the foundations of the Chi Running principles, practice Chi Running drills, allow your body to embrace the concept of the Needle in Cotton, and give it the time it deserves to progress.

As each step is completed it lays the foundations for the next. It’s a lifelong skill so not to be rushed. I’m still learning and will always be gradually adapting and tweaking my technique, subtle changes can make a huge difference to your running technique.

It’s also so important to understand that progress is an individual thing. If you start your Chi Running journey with a running buddy or buddies, you will all progress at different rates, we are all different so our gradual progression will vary from runner to runner. Make sure you focus on your own form, your own cadence and breath, it’s a personal thing but, of course, still to be enjoyed together.

Body Sensing

This may sound a bit airy fairy, but it’s actually very important to keep you in good physical and mental shape as a runner. Body sensing trains us to be intuitive runners, to sense when we have good alignment, optimal cadence, window of balance and so on. It’s also about being aware of how your body feels, throughout the day, not just while out running. The key is to regularly check in with your posture, sensing any niggles or muscle tightness, before they become an issue or injury. This, then becomes a habit, a way of life so you develop a strong sense of awareness of your body. This ties in very much so with a mindful approach to running.

Mindful Approach

This is one of my favourite aspects of Chi Running, my mind/body connection is definitely in sync when I run, I am more aware of my posture and this is because I bring all the chi focusses together. I live in the moment when I run, allowing the clutter to filter away for that brief time out on the road… I can breathe, I can focus, I can relax!

As I said at the start, you hear all the time, runners saying what a hardship running can be. Chi Running, in my opinion, is the opposite of a hardship, it’s a joy!

It may seem there is a lot to take in initially, but it all comes together gradually by practising the Chi Running drills, working on all the key elements of the technique, like posture, balance, breath and cadence.

Ultimately, the true beauty of Chi Running is its simplicity. When it all comes together you reap the massive benefits of being a Chi Runner. Let the Chi flow and your running will flow too.

Emer O'Brien

Emer O'Brien

Emer is one of our newest Chi Running instructors based in Piltown, Co. Kilkenny, Ireland. Check out Emer’s profile page for more information http://chirunning.uk/instructors/emer-obrien/

Skip your way to a lighter stride!

 

The principles of Chi Running are simple, they reflect how the human body is meant to behave and move. Chi Running works. Seven years in and counting, I have coached over 1000 folk and seen all sorts of runners. Some are performance orientated, some use running as a fitness enhancement, the word ‘Chi’ attracts folk who come from a T’ai Chi, martial arts or yoga background. Others simply want to feel lighter on their feet and just enjoy moving better.

Our bodies are wired to move, walk and run. Our foot has not changed in design for over 2.5 million years and 80% of all our proprioceptors are found in our feet and ankles (Kaminoff 2016). We are bipeds and, therefore, are balancing animals. However, our relationship with gravity is a tenuous one. You only need to travel on a ship in stormy waters for a few hours and then walk on dry land to feel the effects of our internal balancing system as we spin and loose balance. Controlling and refining our sense of balance takes some time. Gymnastics, skiing and activities that have a strong focus on balancing refine this awareness.

Running is also a balancing act. We are meant to move in balance, with grace and minimal effort. You only need to watch young children begin to make their first steps to see the awareness of balance grow in their eyes. Equally the range of movement (ROM) is also much more pronounced in young children and the vast majority of African runners you see running on TV. Most of the European runners who do make it across to Africa (McColgan for example) seem to have an optimal ROM in their hips, spine and trail leg. Their stride simply looks more controlled and relaxed. Steve Cram often refers to the African athletes as ‘relaxed, balanced and rhythmical’.

A few of my runners travelled to Africa (Kenya, Iten and Ethiopia, Addis Ababa) and trained with some of the running schools. They came back amazed that they found it so difficult to perform the skipping drills the African runners practised repeatedly. Recently I’ve been incorporating some of these African skipping drills into my practice. Why not have a try yourself perhaps you’ll note a sense of additional power through relaxation and speed with ease.

These drills are not the only things that the athletes do of course, a typical day in an African school would be awake at 6am, do some yoga for an hour and then the am session. Breakfast followed by sleep and rest. Then the pm session would be either light running or these skipping drills.

The above clip gives an overview of attitudinal change that perhaps we should all consider. Note the amazement expressed by Eamonn Coghlan (Irish runner and world champion in the 70s) as he compares the difference in attitude towards running ‘hard track sessions’ to ‘over here it is to be relaxed about their running’. This point is picked up in Matt Fitzgerald’s book 80/20 (2015) and also the Nike project to try to beat the sub 2 hour marathon!

Note the side to side shuffle drill. The teaching points are the knees are not being driven up, they are moving forward because their centre is ahead of their ankles. They are moving in dynamic equilibrium. However, I am aware of the slight ball of foot placement, but when they begin to change the side to side drill to running (tiny strides!) the foot landing is, in almost all cases, mid foot. Note also just how high the arms are, the elbows are at about 90 degrees, there seems to be a strong focus on the use of arms and elbows in Africa. In the book by Toby Tanser (More Fire 2012), there is the statement ‘use your hips and elbows when you run’. Really such a simple statement but underneath that is the realisation that the body connects and where we run from is not where we think or perceive.

I would stress that this drill is performed by the likes of David Rudisha on the regular basis as well as all the other athletes in the training camps. In my workshops I always state ‘if David Rudisha does it, we do it’ Sometimes this drill is performed followed by 30 minutes easy running and that is it!

 

This video shows drills taken from Ethiopia. You need to build up to these and go carefully but note the range of motion in the hips particularly. The emphasis on rhythm and lightness of feet. In the off season these drills last for about two hours. You can start on about 15 minutes/week and build to two sessions of about 30 minutes and see how you feel. One more thing – they work!

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