Chi running is a modern running technique which draws influence from the ancient practice of Tai Chi.
Tai Chi is a Chinese martial art that purports to generate chi, the life energy, and have it move freely through your body. Similarly, chi running aims to allow the chi flow through your body by focusing on an efficient, aligned, and neutral running style.
The technique is the brain child of American Tai Chi practitioner and ultramarathon runner Danny Dreyer, who in the late 90’s, after working closely with Tai Chi masters, developed this new running technique.
He put what he had learned onto paper when he co-wrote ChiRunning (2004) with his wife Katherine Dreyer.
Designed to increase running efficiency while decreasing the risk of injury, chi running is said to promote a more natural running technique that works with, rather than against, the laws of physics, biomechanics, and nature.
In this article we are going to cover;
- The 5 key elements of chi running.
- 4 benefits of this running style.
- And whether the technique is backed by science.
the 5 elements of chi running
This running style incorporates the entire body, and calls for it to be synchronised in one efficient running movement.
Central to this technique is awareness. The runner should be mindful to be incorporating all 5 of these elements into their running technique.
#1: Run Tall
Having good posture is a central facet to chi running.
This means that the head, shoulders, hips, and feet should be stacked in a straight line.
If the feet strike the ground too far out in front of the body, they break out of that straight line, and essentially act as brakes.
Danny Dreyer likens standard non-chi running to driving with one food pushing down on the accelerator, and the other pressing on the break- it is simply inefficient.
#2: Lean Forward
The second element of chi running is to lean forward as you run.
However, when most runners lean forward they tend to do so from the waist. Instead of hingeing from the waist, the forward lean should come from the ankles.
This forward lean means that the runner is ‘falling forward’ as they run. This supposedly reduced the energy required to run, and makes chi running more efficient.
#3: Land On The Mid-Foot
Landing on the mid-foot avoids the runner heel striking.
According to chi running, heel striking occurs when the foot makes contact with the ground too far out in front of the hips.
Running with a heel strike results in a breaking effect which supposedly increases the impact through the joints and muscles and increases the risk of the runner getting injured.
On the other hand, running with a mid-foot landing style reduces the impact and ‘takes the breaks off’. This means that the runner is able to run more smoothly and they have a better running economy.
This supposedly allows the runner to hit faster speeds whilst using up less energy to do so.
Related: Can The Wim Hof Method Make You A Better Runner? + 7 Step Guide
#4: Run From Your Core
Chi running requires you to run with a level pelvis as opposed to a pelvis with a forward tilt, which is supposedly the standard in regular running.
Keeping the pelvis level requires core engagement as well as an awareness of the alignment of the pelvis.
In order to achieve a level pelvis, chi runners visualise leaning against a wall and flattening their lower back against it.
This neutrally tilted pelvis is meant to create a shorter stride, thus a faster running cadence, and it is also said to prevent over-striding and heel striking.
This running philosophy goes against the grain of what most of us would consider the way to run faster.
Usually, if you want to run faster, you try harder.
However, trying harder increases the amount of tension in the arms, shoulders, neck, and back. The idea is that this actually requires a lot of effort and may actually result in the waste of precious energy that could instead go towards running.
In chi running, the idea is that you increase your speed by keeping your body relaxed.
This actually saves you energy and prevents you from working against yourself.
Notoriously, marathon runner Desiree Linden’s running mantra is “Calm, calm, calm. Relax, relax, relax.” Maybe she’s a chi runner?
4 benefits of chi running
According to Danny Dreyer, there are numerous benefits to chi running.
Here are 4:
#1: It Reduces Your Risk Of Injury
If you’re a runner, you know that getting injured is never too far away. However, this style of running claims to mitigate your risk of injury by a long shot.
The neutral running form which is created by the forward lean, mid-foot strike, neutral pelvis, and relaxed body, means that a runner’s risk of injury is reduced.
The idea is that adopting this technique means that there is a reduced impact on your joints.
#2: It Is Natural
According to Danny Dreyer, chi running in nothing new. In fact, children tend to naturally run according to chi running’s principles.
Running barefoot also tends to encourage people to run this way. When people run barefoot the result is generally a reduced heel strike, lighter footfalls, and a more efficient running style.
#3: It Improves Your Posture
The running style focuses on posture with an emphasis on core strength.
Nowadays, many of us spend inordinate amounts of time sat down working away in front of a screen. It is no secret that this does nothing to benefit our posture.
Chi running’s focus on core stability and proper posture makes this running style a helpful counterbalance to a sedentary life.
Danny Dreyer claims that this running style can counteract serious back and core problems such as hyperkyphosis, hyperlordosis, tight hip flexors, and weak core muscles.
The idea is that through chi running, you will improve your posture and thus reduce neck and back pain.
#4: It Makes You Faster
The idea that your biomechanics aren’t working against you when you adopt this technique means that your energy is being used efficiently.
With all of your energy input going into moving you forward, you will inevitably be able to move faster without putting in any more effort.
Chi Walking and Chi Living
It’s not just running!
Danny and Katherine’s chi theory has been applied to walking, and more generally, living.
Much like chi running, chi walking harnesses the power of Tai Chi, but this time, for walking.
It promotes core engagement, balance, and forward, efficient movement.
Public service announcement to all runners: Run / walking is a perfectly valid, and often even advised running technique. It can take you a lot further then you would think!
Consider applying the chi walking technique next time you head out for a run / walk.
Check out this article: Run Walk Marathon Training Guide: Jeff Galloway Method Explained
Chi living applies the idea of being mindful and listening to your body in the same way that chi walking and running do.
However when it comes to chi living, this focused attention is directed mainly towards food.
It’s about being aware of your cravings, eating when you are hungry, stopping when you are full, and enjoying and appreciating the food you have.
But most of all, chi living is about cutting through the distractions and noise of modern life, and turning your attention to tune in to how you feel.
is chi running science backed?
The majority of the beneficial claims of chi running are anecdotal. They either come from anecdotal reviews on the internet, from Danny Dreyer himself, or from companies with a vested interest in chi running.
However, there are a couple of independent studies on chi running. Let’s explore them.
In one study published in the Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy, researchers reported that while chi running does actually decrease the load on the both the knees and hips, it increases the load on the ankle
This finding could suggest good news for those suffering with knee or hip pain, but be wary you ankle pain sufferers!
Another study, published in The Journal of Strength and Conditioning, found that whilst chi running did actually reduce impact, it did not affect running economy, meaning that they concluded that this technique does not make you any faster.
But don’t let that dishearten you! There hasn’t been enough research in this field to make any conclusive claims.
Maybe try it out for yourself and draw your own conclusions…
Get the book!
The original chi running bible!
This book, spells out so much information. From 10 lessons, 4 chi skills, 3 developmental stages, form focuses, plus pre and post run mindsets.
It is the perfect introduction for those interested in chi running, and it will give you all the tools you need to begin your own chi running journey.
not a reader?
Check out this podcast / video!
It will talk you through all of the main principles that the ChiRunning book does in just over an hour.