Running with a Relaxed Midfoot Strike
In a previous post (Running Motion for a Midfoot Strike), the ChiRunning motion was described as a midfoot strike (full-foot) landing with a heel lift/knee bend. Along with this motion, it is also very important to keep the legs and feet relaxed.
Running with a relaxed midfoot (full-foot) strike allows a subtle forward lean (fall) from the ankles to propel you forward with no resistance. If the legs/feet/ankles are holding tension, then the hinge (ankle) is stiff which acts as a brake against your forward fall. Relaxation also removes a significant amount of stress from the lower legs and feet. The statistics indicate that 65-80% of all runners get injured each year in some way. And most of those injuries are at the knee and below. Could it be that we are asking a relatively small part of our body to do a very big job? If we can relax the lower legs and feet, then we can simply use their structure for instantaneous support … a relatively small job for a very strong part of our body – our skeleton.
My favorite way to body sense running with relaxed lower legs and feet is the Sand-Pit Exercise. The Sand-Pit Exercise is described on page 89 (2009 ChiRunning Book) or page 171 (2004 CR Book). When I first started the ChiRunning technique, my brain was programmed to fire my calf and push off whenever my foot landed. I spent a lot of time running and walking on sand, cinder, gravel and wood chips to help me focus on disengaging my lower legs and feet. Any soft surface can enhance a focus on relaxed lower legs and feet, a one-legged posture stance, landing midfoot and no additional pressure (weight) in the balls of the feet as they are peeled off the ground.
[Another key exercise is the Ankle Rolls Body Loosener. This is described on page 196 (2009 ChiRunning Book) or page 99 (2004 ChiRunning Book). The key is to use the knee/upper leg to loosen the ankle. Focus on mentally drawing a circle with the knee on the ground. When? Pre-run, during a running pause, anytime … the goal is to body sense relaxation vs. tension in the ankles/feet.]
A next level is to practice running on a slippery surface; such as mud, snow and even ice. A slippery surface will provide additional feedback on how you are interacting with the ground. The key to running on a slippery surface is to consider that the surface is only slippery in the horizontal directions. If you can run without horizontal forces in your feet, you will minimize slipping. I focus on running on the solid ground under the slippery surface; and evenly trap the slippery material between the foot and the solid ground. This focus or action is in the vertical direction. See the diagram below.
Even though we are focusing on interacting vertically, we still want to be light on our feet. Much of the focus is still on peeling/lifting the feet up; and when landing midfoot (full-foot) it is just for even instantaneous support. As in the Sand-Pit Exercise, it is very helpful to run across a section of slippery surface and then continue with the same mental focus and feeling as you transition onto a solid surface.
Of course we need to be careful on any surface, but a little adversity can stretch your focus and develop a deeper sense of relaxation in your ChiRunning practice.
Please share your thoughts and any questions in a comment below.
ChiRunning®/ChiWalking® Certified Instructor