The 4 Stages of Learning Effortless,
Injury-free Running

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In ChiRunning we put before you the possibility, the golden ring of an idea, that you can run effortlessly and injury-free. Is this possible?

We believe the answer is yes. It is possible to run injury-free, barring accidents that can happen in everyday life and everyday running. And yes, when you get to a certain level with ChiRunning and into “the zone” of where you feel it all come together, ChiRunning can feel amazingly effortless, as many people have said, “like I could run forever.”

Running injury-free and effortlessly are “ruling ideas” that you can, and should, focus on in every run. I do. In every run I’m asking myself, “how can I do this with less effort, with less strain.” That question will lead you on the path to injury-free and effortless running.

We know, however, there are often stages you must go through before ChiRunning really gives you that effortless feeling (although we do get many reports of people who get the effortless feeling very quickly and who report immediate relief from pain from current injuries). In this article we’re going to talk about what the typical stages of learning ChiRunning might be like, and give you a picture of what you can expect.

Stage One

Stage One is when you first open up to the possibility that you can learn a new way to run, and that this new way is actually a good way for you to run. This is the stage of suspended disbelief, or in Buddhist terms, beginners mind.

In Stage One, it is important to understand the underlying principles of ChiRunning, such as; when your spine is aligned, you will move more easily. Something that we simply don’t hear often enough is that our posture is extremely important to all our movement. Therefore it seems hard to believe that simple, good posture can make such a difference. The bottom line is that effortless and injury-free running can only happen to the extent that you get your posture in good alignment. And getting that posture in alignment takes some effort. (See Lesson One on the ChiRunning DVD and Page 63 in the ChiRunning book)

Another principle that needs to be understood for effortless and injury-free running to “happen” is that efficient movement comes from your core muscles, not the muscles in your legs. Again, we are so used to being told that strong legs are the answer to efficient running, that when we’re told to totally relax our legs, it is a huge mind and body shift away from how we normally move.

A short stride is also hard to accept. It just seems that we should reach as far as we can with our legs to gobble up more ground. But in doing so we are putting forth more effort than necessary and making ourselves prone to injury. This is my wife Katherine’s story…“ I never had an easy time with Danny teaching me to run…you know, the husband, wife thing. And his short, quick steps actually annoyed me. It looked like it was MORE effort to be so sprightly. But finally, over the years, I tried the short stride on my own, aided by the metronome, which forced me to quicken and shorten my stride, and I realized why I had suffered back pain for so many years. I have now learned to go as slow as I want and need, even though my cadence is 90 beats per minute. I start out every run keeping a really short stride and then just naturally fall forward to increase my speed. I also thought I was leaning, but on film I could see I was NOT leaning at all. I learned that most of the time I actually lean backwards, so just coming upright feels like leaning forward. This is something else Danny had been trying to tell me, but I just didn’t want to hear about it!!”

Leaning is another aspect of ChiRunning that may require “suspended disbelief”, and the fact that you may not be leaning when it feels like you are. (Lesson Two on the ChiRunning DVD, page 70 of the ChiRunning book).

So, if you’re willing to experiment, you can get through Stage One and move on to…

Stage Two

Stage Two requires that you EFFORT to practice these concepts.

There are two types of effort you may have to make…an effort to focus your mind and an effort to move your body into the correct positioning.

Let’s take your posture as an example (because the most efficient use of your effort is to begin by getting your posture aligned). Since most people do have some posture issues, this is a place where you will need to remember (which is a mind focus) to practice being aligned, while physically engaging muscles that may not have been used in awhile to create alignment.

When the muscles that hold your posture in proper alignment become strong and when your body can maintain that alignment without your mind telling it to do so, good posture will become EFFORTLESS. It can and will happen, if you practice regularly and if you make the effort.

You may need to make a variety of changes that require mental and physical effort. Leaning may take the development of your core muscles, and focusing. Holding your pelvic tilt and swinging your elbows to the rear…all may take some effort and some focus, but eventually they will become effortless and in doing these things you will reduce your potential for injury.

Stage Three

Stage Three is to RELAX and run from your core muscles. Relaxation is a major component to effortless and injury-free running. Learning to relax can be an effort!!! It can be hard to relax your ankles, your glutes, your shoulders and your legs. All this relaxing can take a lot of mental effort, but again, our bodies can learn quickly, especially when something feels good. Pretty soon your relaxing becomes effortless and makes your running more effortless as well.

One great place to focus all that tension is in your core. I practice this regularly. I focus on taking all the tension and energy from my arms and legs and sucking it right into my spine and abdomen. It is quite energizing and the best place for all the energy to gather. It’s really where it should be in the first place.

In Chapter Four of the ChiRunning book, I provide a carrot to lead you into stage Stage One and on through to Stage Three of ChiRunning. The carrot is that your body will move forward simply from the twist of your spine and the pull of gravity when you have your body and your running form in alignment. But it is Stage Four that will finally get you to injury-free and effortless running…

Stage Four

Stage Four is to PLAY. Once you’ve: 1.) tried ChiRunning and had a taste of the potential it holds for you as a runner, and 2.) have mastered the technique, and 3.) learned to deeply relax with the technique and in your body, it is time to play and experiment with all you’ve learned. It is what I do on every run. I play with moving the energy in my body and feeling the Chi in ChiRunning doing it’s part. I play with what I’ve learned by experimenting… and gently and carefully testing the limits of ChiRunning.

There are no limits. My T’ai Chi teacher, Master Xu, says there is infinite variety to our movement. Every time I run in the hills, I play with my inner alignment and the pull of gravity, or with the terrain and my inner alignment. I’m always seeking that sweet spot which, due to the nature of running, can change in an instant to something new. We can learn to play in the infinitely variable world in which we run…be it a slight hill, a rough piece of pavement, or big mountain whose peak we just must see.


Posted in Beginners

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