Note: I have not read Danny Dreyer’s ChiRunning, nor do I intend to. Many of the thoughts in this post may mirror his teachings, but, based on some of the reviews I have read, there are enough differences to make this a unique perspective on the use of Eastern principles to improve our running. In fact, the most thorough review (a criticism) of his book indicates that he may have missed the mark on a few ideas, so this post may, in fact, provide better guidance, specifically in the area of using core strength.
If you are unfamiliar with the Chinese system of Feng Shui, it basically involves the use of geometry to control the flow of positive energy, or “qi” (often spelled “chi”). By orienting buildings within a region, or doors and furnishings within a building, in specific ways (or, perhaps more accurately, avoiding orienting such features in undesirable directions), the belief is that you can channel the appropriate energy to improve the luck, attitude, and mood of those present. Such control is exerted through the addition or removal of appropriate barriers to control the flow of qi, or to avoid undesired “leakage” of qi. In highly-simplified terms, techniques include locating doors to avoid facing each other, arranging furniture in such a way that qi flows into and around a room, etc.
Running efficiently – i.e., translating the power you generate into the best possible balance of performance and injury risk – involves a similar idea. Your goal is to channel your energy, or your own version of qi, in a desired direction, with minimal leakage. That direction is obviously “forward”. And, just like the qi that concerns feng shui practitioners, your qi can’t be controlled through willpower alone. It’s takes appropriate design to make it happen. Your design elements are your musculoskeletal strength and mobility and your neuromuscular coordination, just as a building designers tools are furnishings, air, and light.
There are four ways in which you can consciously improve your ability to direct your qi:
1. Create physical barriers to control flow
When it comes to running, it helps to keep in mind that “form follows function”. It’s very difficult to run with an efficient form, and to resist injuries, if you don’t have the balance of strength to allow it. This is where core strength (true strength – not the “tightness” alluded to in the review of Chi Running) comes into play. Having good core strength keeps your energy from leaking through undesired upper body rotation, bouncing, or side-to-side motion as you run. Being able to resist the leakage of your qi in such a manner ironically requires strength; your upper body doesn’t rotate if you have strong obliques, your legs don’t cross the midline if you have strong hip abductors, etc. You can’t fake this through quick form fixes – it takes investment in a good strength program.
2. Fix form flaws to avoid “leakage”
Fully capitalizing on your core strength may require a concentrated effort to eliminate issues with your running form that cause you to “spill” your qi in a direction other than forward. Examples may include:
- Swinging your arms out or across your body (they should swing through your hips and up to your chest)
- Allowing your head or shoulders to bounce (a headlamp is a good way to detect this)
- Swinging your legs out or crossing your midline
- Rotating excessively in your upper body
Through focusing on these elements one at a time, perhaps with the help of a running partner, you can better direct your qi forward and make notable gains to your running efficiency.
3. Remove distractions that disrupt your energy
Any notice you take of something other than forward motion detracts ever-so-slightly from the channeling of your energy in that direction. If you obsess over the pace, splits, or heart rate on your Garmin, this distracts from forward energy and can, in fact, become a source of negative energy. Learning how to better run by feel is a positive step. The same goes for ill-fitting attire, or too-heavy/controlling shoes – any source of negativity robs your qi and hurts your efficiency.
4. Be mindful and focus forward
Finally, even if everything else is aligned and aimed ahead, your mind needs to be too. Continually looking off to the side (or behind you to see other runners, in a race) causes a slight loss of momentum, which can build under time. Obviously, often when you are out running you’ll want to enjoy the scenery, but the time for that is easy, no-think runs. Any workout with a specific objective – as well as occasional “mind exercise”-driven workout – requires your focus and will to be directed forward, and your mind to be engaged in the task at hand.
There is really a lot in common between this analogy and minimalism – “qi running” (by my definition) and minimalist running both focus on minimizing distraction and preparing the body and mind to focus all your energies forward, to maximize your efficiency and minimize the risk of injury. So as you continue to develop your running skills and abilities, go with the flow and mix in a little feng shui. Let your qi carry you to even bigger accomplishments and satisfaction.