Will core training help my running?

Will core training help my running?

Hannah Kirkman, our senior coach in the Southwest of England addresses the questions that what many runners are asking regarding the core; what actually is it and how do we train it?

Your running core

 The core, huh, what is it good for? Absolutely… quite a lot actually.

 As humans, we stand and walk on two feet, head balanced on top of the tall tower of our spinal column. Something we take for granted, but which is no easy task to achieve. Ask any toddler.

 To give us the freedom to move in this upright position, we’re not solid bone between ribcage and pelvis. Instead, our core muscles act as a ‘pseudo-skeleton’, helping to stabilise the spine, protect our vital organs, and keep those same organs, as well as bodily fluids, where they’re supposed to be, while we walk, run, jump, dance, or whatever.

 And the core is more than just a bit of scaffolding to hold us upright. It’s also smart. Our deep core muscles are packed full of sensors that are constantly telling our central nervous system where we are in space and how we’re moving. So when we suddenly need to swerve to avoid tripping over a tree root, it can step in to stabilise us before our conscious mind has even had time to register what’s going on.

 In running, we up the ante, demanding of our body that it balances on one leg and then the other, over and over in rapid succession. Without integrity in our structure, we collapse, losing efficiency and potentially risking injury. Just watch runners at the end of a marathon to see what happens when core muscles get tired.

 And ChiRunners? We ask even more from our core: to hold us relaxed and stable as we subtly fall forward, so we can cooperate with gravity and useless leg work to move us. Lose our structure, and we’re back to pushing and pulling with our legs.

 Read the full article on Hannah’s website…



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Slow doesn’t have to be sluggish

Slow doesn’t have to be sluggish

Get skipping to improve fitness and running

A slow pace doesn’t mean a sluggish run. Rhythm is the key to maintaining power at a slower pace. Your underlying rhythm when running should be your cadence. That is your stride rate.

You can find your current cadence by setting a timer for 30 seconds and run at a comfortable speed. Count the number of times your right heel lifts off the floor and multiply this by 4.

Make a note of your current cadence. If it’s under 170bpm then there’s definitely room for improvement and by quickening your cadence you’ll soon see the benefits in your running.

As a general rule, your cadence (regardless of pace) should be between 170-180 beats per minute. If you are below this then you are spending too much time on the ground so it will take you more work to get off the ground.

Check out this simple test 

  1. Stand on one leg for about 30 seconds to a minute and then swap sides
  2. Take quick light steps on the spot, balancing on one leg whilst peeling the heal of the other and quickly changing from leg to leg.

Which is easier? I’m guessing you’ll say 2 as you are spending less time on the support leg, less time having to balance and therefore less ‘muscle work’.

All you do now is add the power of gravity, ground force, and momentum to this idea. This gives you a light, quick cadence in your running that optimises natural elastic energy.

A 170-180 cadence will activate this natural elastic energy. Think of skipping.

Skipping is a great way to improve your cadence in preparation for running along with your fitness too. You don’t need a rope either. Just skip on the spot. 

One study shows [1] ‘that healthy runners who increase cadence by 5% should experience decreases in plantar loading that may be associated with lower extremity injuries’. 

Another study [2] showed that increasing cadence in both a minimalist and control shoe reduced stress and reaction force on the knee joint.

Such studies suggest that optimal cadence can reduce the risk of injury.

Here’s a great focus from senior instructor Nick Constantine

“imagine running over a hot surface, try to stop your feet from touching the ground. Avoid balls of feet, just think ‘tap and kiss the ground, not strike the ground, or hit the ground’ minimal noise is a good indication of lightness and reduced contact time.” 

Check out also this excellent article that Nick has written on skipping.

Now you’ve set your constant cadence, synchronise a smooth, rhythmical, nasal breathing pattern to this, keeping it light and easy.

Avoid forcing anything and simply feel the power of natural rhythm settling into the body. You’ll soon feel a sense of being ‘in the zone’.


[1] The Effects of Running Cadence Manipulation on Plantar Loading in Healthy Runners. J. Wellenkotter, T. W. Kernozek, S. Meardon, T. Suchomel. Int J Sports Med 2014; 35(09): 779-784. DOI: 10.1055/s-0033-1363236 https://www.thieme-connect.com/products/ejournals/html/10.1055/s-0033-1363236

[2] Bonacci, Jason, Michelle Hall, Aaron Fox, Natalie Saunders, Tristan Shipsides, and Bill Vicenzino. ‘The Influence of Cadence and Shoes on Patellofemoral Joint Kinetics in Runners with Patellofemoral Pain’. Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport 21, no. 6 (June 2018): 574–78. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jsams.2017.09.593.

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Avoid overtraining with these 2 simple proven practices

Avoid overtraining with these 2 simple proven practices

Despite what you may think, the majority of your running should be fairly easy. Back in the 60s, the renowned running coach Arthur Lydiard revolutionised training with a method that featured lots of slow, comfortable running with modest amounts of speed work.

Whilst high-intensity exercise does help improve fitness, the quickest way to overtraining, pain and often injury is to do too much of it. As a rule of thumb consider a maximum of 20% of your training at a hard effort level but only of course if you are appropriated skilled and conditioned for this.

So the good news is at least 80% of your training should be at a comfortable effort level. This will not only improve fitness but also your general health and wellbeing. It’s also the smart way to improving your speed since you will be building a solid aerobic base on which to build.

Nasal Breathing

The easiest way to ensure that you stay at an easy effort level is to shut your mouth! Breathing in and also out through the nose only. It may take a little time to get used to and it will most probably slow you down to start but stick with it. You’ll soon reap the benefits.

When you get to the point where you feel you need to take a big breath through the mouth then slow down or walk but make sure you don’t open your mouth.

If you think this is going to be difficult it’s worth noting that a study at UWE Bristol1 found that ‘nasal breathing was possible at 85% of maximum workload suggesting that people are capable of nose breathing at much higher intensities than they would normally choose to do.’

Why? Nasal breathing ensures that you are running aerobically (with oxygen) and will keep your heart-rate in the aerobic training zone. When working aerobically you shouldn’t be out of breath!

Other benefits of nasal breathing include:

  • Filtering of bacteria and germs
  • Harnesses nasal nitric oxide which helps open up airways
  • Reduces the occurrence of exercise-induced asthma as research shows that oral breathing during exercise increases bronchospasm
  • Inspiratory muscle trainer – diaphragm, intercostals, and nasal dilator muscles get activated and strengthened
  • Better oxygen delivery to the cells by encouraging diaphragmatic breathing

Studies also show that after a training session an hours relaxation focusing on diaphragmatic breathing reduces oxidative stress2.

Heart Rate Training

Heart rate is a direct reflection of the body’s oxygen need. Therefore if you check your heart-rate whilst practicing nasal breathing you should see a correlation to the MAF method of heart-rate training since both are focusing on an easy aerobic pace.

Phil Maffetone3 stresses the importance of lower training intensities to avoid overtraining syndrome and offers a simple calculation to find your easy aerobic heart rate:
Subtract your age from 180.

Modify this number by selecting the best fit of the following:

  1. If you are recovering from a major illness, surgery or on any regular medication, subtract 10
  2. If you have not exercised before, or have been injured, regressing in your running, often get colds, or you have allergies, subtract 5
  3. If you have been exercising for up to two years with no real problems and have not had colds or flu more than once or twice a year, subtract 0
  4. If you have been exercising for more than two years without any problems, making progress in competition without injury, add 5

For example, if you are 30 years old and fit into category B: 180 – 30 = 150, and
150 – 5 = 145.

This is the maximum easy-pace aerobic heart rate. For efficient base building, you should train at or just below this level throughout your base-building period.

If you are over 65 or 16 and under further individualisation will be needed.

Check out this google sheets heart rate calculator that I’ve compiled combining MAF, HR zones, ChiRunning gears, and nasal breathing. https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1fZStOKV4ytk95cec3_KDgFvuYzlenFQ7gQ2869MNLiI


  • 80/20 training – minimum 80% of training at an easy effort level
  • Avoid the ‘grey zone’ where every training session is at a ‘somewhat hard’ effort level
  • Take time to focus on total nasal breathing in everyday life and well as when you are training
  • Use heart rate as biofeedback and focus first on body sending


1 ‘The Effects of Nasal Breathing on Exercise Tolerance – Research Repository’. Accessed 22 February 2019. http://eprints.uwe.ac.uk/7545/.

Martarelli, Daniele, Mario Cocchioni, Stefania Scuri, and Pierluigi Pompei. ‘Diaphragmatic Breathing Reduces Exercise-Induced Oxidative Stress’. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine: ECAM 2011 (2011): 932430. https://doi.org/10.1093/ecam/nep169.

3 Maffetone, Philip B., and Paul B. Laursen. ‘Athletes: Fit but Unhealthy?’ Sports Medicine – Open 2, no. 1 (26 May 2016): 24. https://doi.org/10.1186/s40798-016-0048-x.

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Top tips from top running coaches!

Top tips from top running coaches!

Picture: Hannah Kirkman, senior coach South West of England.

The main thing I’ve learned over my years as a runner and a coach is that running doesn’t always have to be hard work! Check out some top tips from three of our top instructors.

Emer O’Brien teaches ChiRunning and Pilates in Co. Kilkenny, Ireland and quite rightly highlights the fact that running should be fun in her top tips!

  • Take the pressure off your legs by focusing on lengthening the spine and reaching the crown of your head for the sky.
  • Focus on building up the distance at an easy pace, pace is not your priority at this stage, running continuously is your first goal.
  • Gradual progress is key, don’t overthink it, breath, relax and run
  • Your priority is to stay injury-free so increase the distance gradually
  • Remember to have fun! 

Hannah Kirkman is our senior coach in the South West of England. Hannah is a highly-experienced runner and coach and is also a specialist personal trainer and restorative exercise specialist. 

  • Going straight from 0-60 and 60-0 is hard on the body and mind. Always invest time in warming up and cooling down
  • Think of your rest days as an important part of your training – it’s when the magic happens

Hannah also wrote an excellent blog post on a similar theme http://blueskyrunning.co.uk/6-things-beginning-running

Nick Constantine is our senior coach in the North West of England and Scotland. He also hosts regular retreats across Europe. Nick has been an avid yogi for over 20 years and also teaches yoga alongside ChiRunning which is an excellent combination. Here’s Nick’s sage advice:

  • Focus on rhythm not speed. Use the tips of your elbows as timers. Tap the 180 beat with the elbows. Keep your focus away from tapping out the beat with your feet. Concentrate on running over not on the ground. 
  • Practice balancing on one leg, there are lots of variations from pistol squat to yoga asana but just balance on one leg. Note the differences between each side. Remember running is a balancing act. 
  • Hum your favourite tune! If you can hum you are breathing just fine.
  • ‘Spend time on my feet’ was the best advice I received from a very good female marathon runner. Many runners drive, sit etc and then only move when running. If you want to complete a marathon in 4 hours try walking for 4 hours. How do you feel? 

Lots of great advice there. Pick one or two ideas at a time to take out on a run with you and let us know how you get on. 

Remember that running with the right mindset an eye on good technique offers numerous health benefits, both a physically and mentally.

Keep smiling!

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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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