ChiRunning, ChiWalking and Weight Loss

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Here’s an email question sent to me recently that has been asked enough times now to prompt a complete answer on my part. It’s about weight-loss and running… and specifically the relationship between ChiRunning (or ChiWalking) and weight-loss.

“If I’m constantly working to become highly efficient with my running and walking, while also using exercise to manage my weight, how in the world am I supposed to lose weight as I perfect my ChiRunning or ChiWalking technique?”

Many runners use running to manage their weight. And, although it is a highly effective way to manage weight, it is not really recommended … for the reasons that follow.

You can loose and/or manage your weight with ChiWalking or ChiRunning. Healthy movement of almost any kind will definitely help you maintain and lose weight, but we don’t believe that people should rely solely on exercise for weight loss. We strongly believe, as do many weigh-loss programs, that weight should be lost and maintained primarily through diet, and secondarily with consistent exercise.

Here’s an all-too-common scenario: Someone exercises to lose weight; then they get injured. They don’t exercise for several weeks or a month or more, and end up back at their original weight. And, sometimes they gain back even more depending on how debilitating the injury is. This can be a very frustrating scenario for someone who starts off with great enthusiasm and high hopes for getting rid of those extra pounds.

We believe you are more likely to lose weight from a combination of a healthy diet and a consistent, healthy, aerobic walking or running program. This means balancing your caloric intake (so you end up with a net calorie loss each day) combined with a safe and effective exercise program where you’re not pushing and stressing your muscles unnecessarily.

Carrying excess weight can make your lower back and legs more prone to injury, so it is very important to exercise correctly and not overdo. The promise of weight loss through exercise can be very disappointing if you place all your eggs in one basket.

That being said, if you decide to make ChiRunning or ChiWalking a part of your overall weight-management program, here’s what you can do.

Whether you’re ChiWalking or ChiRunning, it’s important to be as consistent with your exercise program as you can possibly be. Make a commitment with yourself that you will build up to where you walk or run at least 4-5 days a week. Every week! If you miss a day, you walk or run the next day … period. That is, of course, unless you’re working through an injury, in which case you need to be sensitive to your body’s need to heal. Our best advice is to work up to 45+ minutes of ChiWalking four days a week with an additional walk of more than 60 minutes once a week. The four weekday walks can be flat, hilly or whatever you want, and the long walk should be at a nice, steady aerobic pace.

When you’re using ChiWalking or ChiRunning for weight-loss, it is crucial that you don’t walk or run too fast. If you do it will work against you. You might come back from your workout sweaty and tired, but what you’ve mostly done is burn through most of your muscle glycogen, which will be replaced by the next carbohydrate meal you sit down to.

If you want to really lose weight, you need to burn fat and that takes a different approach. The best way to burn fat is to do ChiWalking or ChiRunning at an aerobic pace, meaning that you can carry on a conversation, but you might get a little out of breath doing so. But it’s not just maintaining an aerobic pace that burns fat. It’s maintaining an aerobic pace for a looooooooong period of time. Minimally 30 minutes, but the longer the better.

This where ChiWalking and ChiRunning come in, because if you’re going to be working out for longer and longer periods of time, you need to make sure you’re not wearing out your moving parts in the process … ie. knees, hip joints, lower back, feet and legs. Since ChiRunning and ChiWalking are both based in injury-prevention, both techniques are ideal for all of your Long Slow Distance (LSD) adventures.

This means if you intend to be moving on your feet for feet for extended periods of time, you’ll have to pay a lot of attention to getting and holding your body in the best alignment possible. This is especially true for you if you’re carrying extra weight for longer distances. Anytime you’re carrying weight on a frame that wasn’t necessarily designed to carry that much extra, any variance or deviation from good, weight-bearing alignment could put your joints, muscles and tendons into over-load. Structural alignment is covered very thoroughly in both ChiWalking (pg. 71-82) and ChiRunning (pg. 63-70) books.

When you’re working your way up to longer distances, the first order of business is to always focus on your postural alignment … with every step, if possible! It will pay off in spades later on, because you won’t be misusing any of your moving parts as you increase your distance, and your mind and body will gradually take on a new mode of moving.

As far as the conditioning side of the question goes, it’s a no-brainer. By increasing your distance, you will not only be losing weight, you’ll be toning your arms, legs, and core muscles every step of the way. Anytime you’re practicing ChiWalking and ChiRunning, you’re setting yourself up for a healthy future of intelligent weight management and body fitness. We call it a “lose-win” situation.

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