Most folks, regardless of what kind of condition they are in to begin with, can get in good enough shape to run a couple of miles without stopping. Just a few weeks of running can build stamina and increase overall health, which is probably why jogging is such a popular way for people to get -- and stay -- in shape.
But as runners build up their mileage, the finer points can make a big impact over the course of a long run. Highly engineered shoes, ergonomically designed headphones and high-tech clothing have become the hallmarks of distance runners who want everything they do to benefit their performance.
One of the most overlooked variables of running performance is technique. Using the most efficient, least punishing form can improve performance, make running more enjoyable, preserve the body and add longevity to a running career.
Pose running and ChiRunning are two techniques that emphasize proper form for increasing efficiency and reducing the risk of injury. Briefly, pose running stresses the importance of position and balance in achieving the ideal form, and the ChiRunning technique is based on improving posture, reducing the strain on muscles and focusing on the mental aspects of performing.
In this article, we'll discuss the techniques and philosophies of pose and ChiRunning, and look at the similarities and differences between each.
Invented by ultramarathoner Danny Dreyer, ChiRunning marries the physiological, mental and spiritual aspects of tai chi with sound mechanics to minimize effort and reduce the stress runners put on their bodies. One of the guiding principles of tai chi is the idea that energy moves from one's center and flows throughout the rest of the body. In Chinese philosophy, chi is the energy force that moves all things. By focusing on this energy, you can guide and direct it. This practice, tai chi, is a series of movements that is part exercise, part meditation.
Over time, Dreyer adapted the lessons of tai chi into his running and realized that as his posture improved, so did his form. And in his book, "ChiRunning: A Revolutionary Approach to Effortless, Injury-Free Running," Dreyer attributes most running injuries to poor or improper form.
The physical part of ChiRunning promotes leaning forward so that a runner's momentum is carrying him or her through each step, letting gravity bear some of the burden. This naturally shortens each stride and softens the landing. Alignment and core strength are also critical components, since most runners slump their shoulders or hang their heads. Staying aligned is important because this distributes the weight more evenly throughout the skeletal system rather than leaving the heavy lifting to the lower legs.
Finally, ChiRunning teaches runners the mid-foot strike, landing with their feet directly underneath them or even slightly behind them. This is in contrast to most runners who are heel strikers, which kills momentum with each step and is particularly hard on knees and shins. According to a 2007 survey of more than 25,000 ChiRunners, 61 percent said they were formerly heel strikers and 91 percent reported that their ease of running has improved since adapting to this style [source: Dreyer].
Russian scientist and coach Nicholas Romanov developed the pose technique, which places an emphasis on proper form as a way to increase performance. Romanov's theory is based on observing athletes in other sports -- including ballet and martial arts -- and noticing how their movements were actually a series of poses. The more precise each pose, the more effective the athlete. Using this as the catalyst, he began pursuing the perfect series of movements to produce the ideal running form. He came to the conclusion that the best running form vertically aligns the head, shoulders and hips.
Like ChiRunning, pose running theoretically reduces injuries and stress on the body by maximizing efficiency and eliminating unnecessary movements. It teaches high cadence, which means shorter and quicker steps. So instead of long, reaching strides, pose runners focus on increasing their strides per minute. This is where speed comes from -- by increasing cadence, not by lengthening stride, which is how most casual runners generate speed.
This takes conditioning. Quick strides are more taxing on the cardiovascular system than long strides but significantly easier on the body. The idea is that time spent improving your cardio is a smaller price to pay than the injuries to knees, ankles and shins that can result from heavy, plodding steps.
Mastering the pose takes time, and the meticulous focus on proper mechanics makes pose running much more demanding for casual athletes. This method places more emphasis on muscle development to maintain form, and strength training has only recently become part of the endurance athlete's training regimen.
In the next section, we'll look at some of the similarities and differences between these two running styles.
Similarities and Differences Between Pose and ChiRunning
Pose running and ChiRunning have many similarities in how they approach the mechanics of running. Both teach the mid-foot strike, a forward lean and proper alignment, and they both coach practitioners to use the pull of gravity to propel them forward rather than making their legs do all of the explosive, tiring work.
But there are also some subtle differences that could make a significant impact on whether or not one technique is right for a certain runner. Pose running puts more demand on the legs, using muscle control to maintain proper positioning. ChiRunning teaches that the leg below the knee should be relaxed, taxing the muscle very little. The primary focus of ChiRunners is core strength and the belief that energy can be redirected from the trunk to the extremities. Another key difference is that pose running uses a short stride while ChiRunning extends the stride, again to alleviate the effort on leg muscles.
Finally, probably the most distinguishing characteristic between these two approaches is that pose running is primarily focused on the physiological elements of running. ChiRunning on the other hand, is steeped in Eastern philosophies that, while may be perfectly valid, Western runners may have trouble applying.
Like most fitness topics, there are volumes of research on proper running form and experts are more than happy to weigh in on which is the best. These are just two variations on improving running form, and each one is bolstered by anecdotal and scientific findings to support its claim. But each runner is different, and in the next section we'll discuss the benefits, dangers and complexities of adopting a new running style.
Adopting a New Running Style
Every runner is different. Stand at the finish line of any race and you can see that. Good form, bad form -- if it gets you across the finish line, it's hard to argue with. But if you're interested in shaving minutes off your time or reducing the number of injuries you have to deal with, altering your form may be the best place to start.
Changing running styles is not something to be taken lightly. Over the long run, better form may prevent injuries, but too many changes too fast can also do more harm than good. The best bet is to start slow. Take an inventory of your running motion and see if you can identify room for improvement. Try videotaping yourself or visiting your local running specialty store and asking someone to take a look at your form. Is your stride too long or too short? Do you land on your heel or swing your arms too much?
Once you have identified the area you want to work on, incorporate it slowly into your normal routine. As you become more comfortable with a new movement or technique, extend the amount of time you focus on it until it becomes natural. Once that issue is resolved, move on to the next. This can be applied to both pose and ChiRunning styles, and proponents of each recommend taking a long-term view of adopting either one. For most runners, it's a lifelong activity, so there's no need to rush a change that might derail you with an injury. After all, slow and steady wins the race.
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- Aubrey, Allison. "Chi Runners Poised for Softer Landings." National Public Radio. (September 14, 2006).http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=6070170
- Dreyer, Danny; Dreyer, Katherine. "ChiRunning: A Revolutionary Approach to Effortless, Injury-Free Running." Fireside. (May 5, 2009)
- Lee, Ed. "ChiRunning: Take the effort out of your running by mimicking the tai chi masters." Runner's World. (October 10, 2007)http://www.runnersworld.com/article/1,7124,s6-369-370--12184-0,00.html
- Romanov, Nicholas. "Dr. Nicholas Romanov's Pose Method of Running." Pose Tech Press (May 2004)
- Tucker, Ross; Dugas, Jonathan. "Pose Running Reduces Economy…the Missing Study." The Science of Sport. (July 22, 2010)http://www.sportsscientists.com/2007/10/pose-running-reduces-running-economythe.html