Take Your Running to the Next Level with a Metronome
When I first started using a metronome in 1995 I had quite a profound experience of feeling my body move into a centered, focused, calm place. I fell easily into proper running form while my mind relaxed. I was used to practicing good posture and engaging my core, so those primary focuses were in place. But the rhythmic cadence of the metronome created an overall experience I had not had before. It helped me to gather to one primary focus. It kept my stride short and even and totally in synch with my arms. I felt more deeply than ever that my body was functioning in a smooth and unified way, without the sense of feeling the separate parts of legs, arms, torso and head. I have had this experience many times since, but the first time was one of the biggest “Aha” moments in my running career.
I’d never heard of using a metronome for running, but I used it often, practicing with it regularly. Then, in 1999, when I began to teach the first ChiRunning classes, I tested it with students, and sure enough, I saw good runners get even better, and beginning runners began to look like experienced long distance runners.
Since then I have experimented with using the metronome to improve my own and my students’ running form. One thing I’ve found that helps me deeply relax and settle into a very comfortable and economical stride, is to synch my breath rate with my cadence. My normal stride rate (cadence) is 180 strides per minute (spm). When I’m out on a training run at a comfortable training pace I’ll set my metronome to beep at 60 bpm and I run with a “waltz step” where I hear a beep every third step, just like in a waltz. So, whatever your normal cadence is, just find your waltz tempo by dividing total steps per minute by three to get your setting. (i.e. 180 ÷ 3 = 60). It’s much more relaxing (and quiet) than listening to 180 beats every minute. (Note: I recommend 180 spm for runners with shorter legs, like mine, and 170 spm for you long-legged runners. It is less efficient for anyone to run with a cadence slower than 170 spm or faster than 180 spm.)
When I synch my breath rate to my cadence I can keep my body’s movements rhythmic and consistent, while I practice moving chi energy through my body in various pathways: up my spine, down my front, in figure eights throughout my body, gathering into my center, or issuing energy while running downhill as fast as I can (my favorite!).
Running is a license to have the best highs of life. I can come back from 2-3 hour runs more energized than when I left.
I was recently running a half marathon and felt myself losing energy around mile ten. After trying all the focuses I could think of I was still struggling to find my stride. Hey, it happens. Then, I turned my metronome on, and that was it. I regained my rhythm and shorter stride length and I soon felt energy move through my body again. I actually finished the race with energy to spare.
Here is one of my favorite metronome workouts:
It’s simple. Do this as a hill or trail run (where you’re changing gears a lot), or as a flat run where you frequently change your gears (go faster or slower). The goal of this workout is to start your metronome at the beginning of the run and match your stride rate to the metronome no matter what gear you’re running in or what speed you’re going. Keep to the rhythm of that metronome as if your life depended on it. Allow your stride to open up out the back when you’re going faster or downhill in 3rd gear (has to be runnable down hills, not too steep). Shorten your stride for uphills to 1st or 2nd gear or just run in a lower gear on flats. No matter what, try to match the metronome with every step you take, and stay with a consistent cadence of 170-180 spm or 57-60 bpm if you’re doing the waltz tempo.
Aside from the metronome, it is also important to practice the basic ChiRunning form focuses. Your core needs to be engaged and your posture aligned. Your shoulders should be relaxed and your arms swinging in good form as you feel for the sweet spot of your lean. Do two of these form workouts a week and you’ll have fabulous running technique in no time.
Once you have the fundamentals, the metronome will help take your running to the next level. How high and how far, I can’t say. I still feel like I’m just beginning to experience what’s possible.