Chi Running—a combination of the Chinese martial art Tai Chi and cardio—might sound a bit weird. But believe it or not, it can improve your workouts, build your endurance and prevent running-related injuries—whether you’re a serious marathoner or simply a once-in-a-while jogger. To find out how it helps, we checked in with Danny Dreyer, ultra marathoner, Chi Running teacher, President of ChiRunning, and co-author of Chi Running: A Revolutionary Approach to Effortless, Injury-Free Running. Here’s a rundown of what it is, who it’s for, and how it can boost your overall athleticism.
Chi Running is a training program that focuses on technique over strength. It takes stress off your legs by emphasizing movement from the core of your body, which Dreyer defines as just below the navel. "Running injuries happen most often below the waist because of too much stress occurring in the lower body and too much work being required of it," Dreyer says. Focusing on your center helps you fall forward into gravity and balance yourself there, which builds strength. Chi Running teaches runners to be more efficient with their form, preventing injuries and improving speed. "It is functional core work — how to strengthen core muscles while you are running to go farther and faster," says Dreyer.
He teaches runners to have correct postural alignment and relax at the same time. If you aren't aligned correctly, your muscles will be working overtime. "We use the technique of leaning forward as you run, so that you are in a controlled fall," he says. Take a look at how a child runs—they lean forward and easily strike mid-foot. As an adult, you get wary of falling on your face, and so you run upright. "Once you start falling forward, gravity assists you, and your legs don't have to push as hard," Dreyer says.
You’ll also learn to use a shorter stride, quicken your tempo to 170-180 strides per minute, move from your center, stay relaxed and flexible throughout your body, practice mindful movement by connecting with your body, keep equal coordination between your lower body and upper body, and use full-belly breathing (similar to yoga breaths).
Who Can Do It
"When you work on someone’s arm strength or leg strength or foot strike, you find out where they are inefficient," says Dreyer. Though the online training programs are for beginners or intermediate runners, Dreyer says that many marathoners and triathletes train with Chi Running as well. "No matter what level you are at, we always take people down to zero," he says.
Chi Running has more than 200 instructors worldwide, and three instructor-training programs a year. "We have a lot of physical therapists, medical doctors, personal trainers, and coaches," Dreyer says. Chi Running also has online training programs with supplemental videos to show you exactly what your technique should look like. For these training programs, which include 5K, 10K, half-marathons and marathons, you set the date of your desired race and the training program backs up from there. "You work on that one technique for a week, then have a different technique for the next week," Dreyer says.