You've heard a million times that you should relax more; that loosening up a little bit could do wonders for your health. Turns out, it can also make you a better runner.
Relaxing your body is a main tenet of ChiRunning, a technique that incorporates principles of T'ai Chi to make your stride feel more fluid and less strenuous—and help you avoid injury. "It'll change your perspective on running," says senior instructor Maurice Wills.
One of the keys is tweaking your form so the impact from running is gentler on your body. Many people land on their heels. "But when you do that, you absorb three to five times your body weight," says Wills, who co-owns a triathlon training facility called Infinity Multisport in Chicago. The shock travels up your legs, putting you at a greater risk of injury.
With ChiRunning, you aim for a mid-foot strike, with "a relaxed, floppy foot," says Wills. Ideally your feet should land directly under or slightly behind your hips. That creates a softer landing that should help protect against aches and pains, he says.
Runners are also encouraged to engage their core and lean forward slightly (with a straight spine, not slumped over). In this position, your center of gravity helps propel you forward, so you're not spending as much effort fighting gravity by pushing off the ground. “It’s the way Kenyans and Ethiopians have been running for centuries. And what kids do when they first learn to walk,” says Wills.
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It may look and feel like you're about to face plant, but keep going, he says. “[Leaning forward] is definitely something that can be uncomfortable at first, but that’s a sign you’re doing it right."
Moving with the correct alignment will transform you into a more efficient, faster runner, ChiRunning coaches say. It will also make the miles fly by: “My goal is to be the laziest runner to exist,” says Wills. “Running shouldn’t be work and it shouldn’t be painful. It should be relaxed and comfortable.”
Interested in learning more? You can look up instructors on ChiRunning.com; order a book or DVD by the technique's creator, Danny Dreyer; or check out instructional videos on YouTube, like this one with Olympian Carrie Tollefson.