Running and Working With Gravity
Last weekend Certified Instructor Natalie Isaac and I assisted Master Instructor Mary Lindahl at the CRCWIT in Chicago. The three of us met Wednesday night at a restaurant to discuss the next four days and we started talking about how gravity is used to assist in Chi Running and decrease muscle usage. A gentleman in the next booth overheard us and challenged us to explain how gravity could be working if you stood in your head and drank a glass of water. The water still goes to your stomach, so where’s the gravity? I said ‘that’s just peristaltic motion‘ which means even if you’re upside down, the smooth muscles are still going to contract to move the water to your stomach, thought they may have to work a bit harder. Plus, some water will leak back up because that’s inefficient use of the muscles involved in peristaltic motion. That’s because you’re trying to move something against gravity instead of with it.
Later it occurred to me how much this explanation is like explaining the Chi Running technique versus power running and muscle usage. In power running, your body is more upright, with no lean, and as you push yourself forward with one foot (engaging the calves, achilles, plantar), your other foot must reach out in front of your hips to land. You then propel your body weight over the front leg, engaging the hamstring muscles. Your other foot comes forward and lands in front again, stopping the forward running motion (usually the heel – sending a shock wave all the way to your neck) and you push off again with the rear foot. It’s like driving with one foot on the gas pedal and one foot on the brake – and it involves a lot of muscle usage. Over the distance of running a marathon, this adds up, fatiguing those poor muscles, all because your running is working against gravity.
In contrast, when you practice Chi Running, you work with gravity. With a nice straight column running from your shoulder all the way to your ankle, and with relaxed ankles, you fall into a slight, one inch lean from your feet. Keeping this lean, you just pick up your feet to keep up with the fall, and your foot naturally strides out behind your center of gravity. As it lands, it will come just under or slightly behind your hips, and all you have to do is allow it to float up again, completing a circular motion. By keeping the stride length short, your core engaged, and allowing your upper body to fall with the pull of gravity, you will notice that your lower legs are not having to push your body forward! In fact, by letting your ankles relax, the lower legs almost feel like noodles hanging from your knees. Over the distance of a marathon, this adds up to a lot of relaxed muscles, all because you are running with gravity.
So if you had to choose drinking a glass of water while standing on your head, or with your body upright, which would you prefer? Would you choose to fight gravity or work with it? Likewise, what seems more efficient with less muscle usage – running with gravity or not? Running can be as easy as swallowing a glass of water!