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!