Start Running with the ChiWalk-Run Training Program

Posted by Katherine Dreyer on Thu Feb 26th, 2009, No comments (be the first!)

New to running? Getting back to running after a hiatus?

To start running with the least risk of injury and the highest potential for success, we suggest the ChiRun/ChiWalk Training Program to get you started running safely and enjoyably.

When you are getting started or start running again after a hiatus, there are 3 main issues that I would like to address:

1. Core Strength

2. Flexibility

3. Aerobic and Cardio Capacity

I’ll address each of these at more length. When you combine ChiWalking and ChiRunning, you will not tax your system too quickly, and you will build the necessary skills, strengths and flexibility safely and over time.

The Walk/Run Approach
For those of you who haven't tried a walk/run program, it is basically a series of short runs interrupted by very short walking breaks. This method allows your body to gradually work into a program of regular weekly workouts. Because the walking and running segments are relatively short, they're easy to do and they help build your cardio-aerobic conditioning. It means that you'll be running for only a few minutes during each of your running segments.

The Walk/Run program we propose is not for the long term. The goal of our Walk/Run program is to get you running consistently. You can always continue using Walk/Run for as long as you want; however, there are many good reasons to work towards running consistently for your workouts. Walk/Run is for the beginning stages of getting into a consistent running program, to where you can run without stopping for 1-3 miles (whatever works for you). After that we suggest you increase your running by adding additional running time.

You will be focusing on learning or reinstating the Chi Walking and Chi Running Form Focuses which will reduce your chances of injury at any distance, and also help you strengthen your core muscles and gain greater flexibility. Once you are comfortably able to run 1-3 miles, you can focus solely on Chi Running and stop taking walking breaks unless you feel the need.

There are psychological and physiological reasons we recommend working towards running consistently. Psychologically, if you depend on walking breaks for the long term, it can cut you off from discovering your potential, and it does not encourage you to think creatively or resourcefully. Physically, the transition from walking to running and back again can be more taxing than just running. As you learn the Chi Running technique you'll find that you have a storehouse of tools for dealing with fatigue and pain, should they arise. When you get to the point where you can run 1-3 miles consistently without a break, your first response to pain or fatigue will be to figure out why you're tired or sore, and then try make any necessary corrections or adjustments in your technique. If you need to stop and walk, by all means do so. But there is no reason you should stop to walk if you don't need to. And, the more efficient you become in your running technique, the less tired you'll be. As you learn the Chi Running technique, you'll see that letting off on your gas pedal and shortening your stride can be even more restful than constantly switching back and forth between walking and running. The Run/Walk program, however, is perfect to get you started and for getting back into shape and addressing the 3 keys to getting running:

1. Core Strength: A key element of Chi Walking and Chi Running is engaging your core muscles. Your core muscles keep your pelvis stable during movement and also connect your torso to your legs. When your core muscles are not engaged, you have two entities working separately: your body and your legs. When your core muscles are engaged, your body becomes one unit with all the parts of your body working together to move you down the road. Strong core muscles also help you hold a strong and straight posture line.

When you are getting started on a fitness program or coming back from a break, your core muscles will need some conditioning. This Walk/Run program will give your core muscles the workout they need, without overtaxing them. In ChiWalking and ChiRunning you will build these crucial muscles over time.

2. Flexibility: Another key to Chi Walking and Chi Running is keeping the rest of your body (everything except your core muscles) relaxed, supple and flexible. When you have been sedentary for a while, especially after a long, cold winter, your body may be tight and rigid. The best way to loosen up is to begin each workout with our Body Looseners and then practice Chi Walking with gentle transitions into Chi Running. Relaxation and flexibility allow your body to have a full range of motion. Plus, loose and relaxed muscles and joints are less likely to get pulled or injured. As you get more flexible, you can decrease the amount of ChiWalking and transition to more running with greater ease and joy. Chi Walking will warm up your body to gentle and healthy movement.

3. Aerobic and Cardiovascular Capacity: When you start running, you will need to build your aerobic and cardio capacity. That takes time. If you try to run too much too soon you will get out of breath and put too much stress on your system. By using the ChiRun/ChiWalk program you’ll build your aerobic and cardio abilities by walking, then running, then walking again when you need a break. It is always a good idea to warm up and cool down with Chi Walking.

Building a running training program
Here are some suggestions for developing a consistent running program:

  • Make an appointment: If you are new to an exercise program it is almost as important to schedule your workout ahead of time as it is to do your workouts. This will keep your exercise program in your consciousness, so that it doesn't somehow slip to the bottom of your to-do list each week. Schedule your workouts like they are an appointment you don't want to miss. Then you won't miss them!

  • Start with a minimum of 3 days a week: This will consistently build up your aerobic capacity, making each subsequent workout feel a little bit easier.

  • Train with a friend: It's even more beneficial if you can talk a friend into running some of your workouts with you. It makes each workout time even something more fun to look forward to.

Practice your posture
After you've settled on which days and times you'll be exercising, do the Body Looseners and review the Posture Exercise (to be found in the Chi Running or Chi Walking book and DVD) as a refresher. Practice your posture for a few minutes before you head out the door. In fact, I would suggest you do this ritual before every workout. It only takes a few minutes, but makes a huge difference in the quality of your walking and running.

Begin running with a warm-up walk
Once you're out the door, begin by Chi Walking, first at a relaxed pace which allows your legs to warm up a bit. Then, once you feel your legs are ready to roll, shift into a more brisk walking pace where you start to feel your breath rate increase and your arms swinging faster along with your legs. Keep your stride short as you increase your walking speed. Walk at this brisk pace for 5-8 minutes. This will help you to increase your cadence and make it easier to eventually break into an easy jog.

Practice your Chi Running technique
Always be mindful of good running technique. When you're ready to move into a jog:

  • check back in with your posture to make sure you're aligned well

  • hold your pelvis level

  • let your shoulders be relaxed and low

  • lead with your upper body

  • begin with a slow running pace

  • keep your stride short and your body as relaxed as possible

Always strive to make it easy. Run this way until your breath begins to feel labored (like you can't quite get enough air) then drop back into a brisk walking pace until your breath rate recovers to an acceptable range.

Improve your aerobic conditioning
Here's how to increase your conditioning level more quickly and consistently:

  • let your breath rate return to near normal…

  • don’t let your heart rate slow all the way down to normal

  • listen to your breath more than your heart (The exception to this rule would be people with known heart issues.)

As you start running again before your heart rate completely recovers, you'll strengthen your heart "muscle" and improve its ability to pump more oxygen-laden blood to your legs.

It is important that once you feel your breath almost recovered, that you lean forward again and break into a comfortable, easy running pace. Repeat this cycle of running and walking as many times as feels comfortable. Carefully Body Sense the right amount of time for each workout. Some people like to run for a specific number of minutes and then walk for a certain number of minutes. I believe that you will get into great physical shape much more quickly and naturally if you simply let your body tell you when and for how long to run, and how long to spend in a walking (resting) cycle.


Walk intentionally with good walking technique
When you take a walking break, remember, don't just fall into a stroll. By keeping yourself mindful of good walking technique and keeping your pace brisk, but restful, you train yourself to keep a good momentum, even while you're "resting." Most people, when they slow to a walk, tend to completely lose any physical strength and form. They go from running to drooping and flopping down the road. This tends to break any momentum that has been gained and can actually drop your energy level.


Transitioning between running and walking
When transitioning from walking to running and back again focus on maintaining your form.

  • level your pelvis

  • keep your posture straight

  • keep your arm swing engaged

  • keep a short stride and a brisk cadence

  • increase to a slight lean and move into first gear of Chi Running

  • gradually move to second gear, and as your conditioning improves move into 3rd and 4th gears.


Drop the walk breaks
As you progress through the weeks leading up to spring, you might notice your running segments gradually getting longer and your resting sections getting shorter. That's natural, and how it should be. It's your body's way of showing you that you're getting into better and better shape. Within 6 weeks you should begin to feel a distinct difference in your energy level and your ease of movement during your workouts. Whenever you sense this, be sure to pause and congratulate yourself on how far you've come. As your conditioning level increases and you can run comfortably, it is a natural progression to allow the walk breaks to eventually fall away.

As a last note, although we didn’t focus on technique in this article, it is always important that whether you're running or walking you should always be working to improve your running and your walking technique, and move in the safest and most efficient way possible. One should never take up running or walking without spend time working on form right from the beginning. It will save you a lot of headaches (and body aches) if you get off to a good start with good technique.


Extra materials for working on your running form:

On our website there's an article on Beginning Running that will guide you through a 3-week program of learning the Chi Running technique. Nothing, however, will help you to learn better than one of the following options: the Chi Running book, the Chi Running DVD and/or the help of a Certified Chi Running Instructor. For those of you who want to focus primarily on Chi Walking, the Chi Walking book, DVD and 8-Week Guide to Chi Walking is also available.

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