Q: What is chi running?
A: It’s a form of running that incorporates some principles of tai chi, a martial art that uses slow, dance-like, low-impact movements, often done now as a form of exercise. The goal is to transform high-impact running into a more relaxed, body-friendly, mindful activity. It’s an attractive idea, with a loyal following and good word of mouth, but little published research has been done to see if it really reduces the risk of injury, as claimed. There’s also chi walking.
Chi running was developed by Danny Dryer, an ultra-marathoner and tai chi practitioner who wanted to improve his running technique and make it less stressful on the body. It focuses on core strength, proper posture and mindfulness. The technique involves using core muscles to power movement; leaning forward slightly and keeping legs more relaxed; and landing midfoot instead of heel first (more like barefoot running).
Many books, websites (including Dryer’s own chirunning.com) and YouTube videos can help you get started. Just beware of the hype and hard sell: Dryer has created a mini industry around chi running, marketing everything from DVDs and heart rate monitors to special apparel and toe separators.
Other people have also come up with supposedly gentler alternative ways of running. Runners will differ in their preferences when it comes to these approaches and training techniques. Those with certain biomechanical problems, such as ankle problems or feet that roll inward or outward excessively, may have trouble with some of these techniques. Any time you alter your running gait substantially, you risk injury. It often helps to work with a skilled coach or trainer and/or a physical therapist if you have biomechanical issues or past injuries.
Runners can also just incorporate some common sense tenets of chi running simply by being more mindful and more focused on body mechanics and alignment.