Thursday, 19 July 2012

Chi Running workshop review

Fiona with Danny Dreyer, the inventor of ChiRunning®
Last Saturday I attended a ChiRunning® workshop in Zürich, held by Fiona McLellan.  Fiona is a Chi Running and Chi Walking certified instructor, of which there are only two in Switzerland.  She achieved her certification in May 2011.

Fiona is originally Scottish but has been living in Switzerland for many years.  She usually runs her courses in German but also provides explanations in English as required.  There were 5 of us in the course last Saturday, and as most of us were English speaking she held the course in English.

The first thing Fiona wanted to know was what our reasons for attending the workshop were. Three of the participants came in the hope of finding a way to run injury free, one was hoping to learn better technique and then there was me.  I was there because I am interested in finding out about running trends, so that I can tell you guys (and ladies) about them.  I recently did a similar review of Pose Method® running.

What is Chi Running?

Chi Running teaches safe and efficient, natural running technique, with the aim of reducing injury and improving performance.  It is a method of running instruction developed by Danny Dreyer, an American ultra runner and t'ai chi practitioner, and it has been around since 1999.

The workshop

After a theoretical introduction, Fiona started with a series of simple exercises to get us to start focussing on achieving the correct posture for Chi Running.  The correct posture for Chi Running involves contracting the muscles at the front of your pelvis and maintaining a strong core, whilst keep everything else as relaxed as possible.

Gravity should be used to assist your running and acceleration and deceleration is achieved by either increasing or decreasing the lean of your body.  The lean should originate from the ankles and not from the waist.  The neck should be long and the chin level so that a C shape is formed by tracing from your chin, over your head, down your back, and then from the back of your pelvis towards the front of your pelvis and up to your navel.  The runner's ankle, hip-bone, shoulder and ear should be in a straight line when landing.

In Chi Running the arms are considered very important.  When running on the flat they should be doing just as much work as the legs (50-50), and that changes when running uphill or downhill.  When running uphill, Fiona told us that the arms do 70% of the work and the legs do the remaining 30%.  The effort should be made to swing the arms backwards rather than forwards, as they will naturally come forward by themselves unaided, due to the pendulum effect.  The angle of the forearm to the upper arm should be 90 degrees and the hands should be cupped as if holding a butterfly inside your hand that you neither want to squash nor to let escape.  The arms should not cross the centreline of the body, as Chi Running teaches that any movement not in the direction of movement is inefficient.

The steps should be small and quick and the whole foot lands at once, so as to help absorb impact (but in minimalist shoes or when running barefoot, Chi Runners land on the forefoot first and then immediately come down onto the whole foot).  To take off is simply a matter of lifting the heel as if peeling off a plaster.

After doing exercises to practise using the lean, getting in the C shaped posture and contracting our core, relaxing the rest of our bodies and minimising unnecessary effort, we headed outside to the park.  Here in the park we started putting everything together, and then Fiona told us about the Chi Running recommended cadence.  Chi Running teaches a cadence of 180 steps per minute (the same as Pose method running).  We used a metronome to practise running at 180bpm.  Some of us in the group found this cadence very natural and others found it too fast.  In general the ones that found it too fast were prominent heel strikers.

Chi Running teaches not to reach out for the ground in front but rather to open the stride out at the back. Fiona told us that when she was first learning Chi Running technique they practised running over logs, not by lifting the foot up at the front but by lifting it up at the back.  This is the opposite of what most of us would probably do naturally when faced with a log in our path, but if you try it you will see that you can also get over a log this way too.

Chi Running also teaches that the legs begin just under the ribcage rather than from the top of the leg alone.  We did an exercise where we had to run normally, then stop running and walk as fast as possible then run again.  What we found after fast walking was that our pelvis continued to rotate slightly whilst running.  This, Fiona says, helps us to achieve a slightly longer stride and is a good thing to do.

Fiona then went on to touch on the topics of hill running, and breathing when Chi Running.  These topics are covered in more detail in advanced Chi Running courses, but she told us that in terms of breathing it is good to breathe through the nose as much as possible, because when we breathe through the nose we naturally tend to use our stomach to breathe, rather than using purely the upper area of our lungs.  The part where she touched on hill running was extremely interesting, because I asked her how you should run up a really steep hill when you are unable to put your ankles down (because the gradient is just too severe).  I have never seen anything like it before, but she showed us that you should turn sideways and run up the hill.  It looked rather odd but it may be worth trying next time you are running up a really steep hill, because running on your tiptoes is very tiring and you won't be able to do that for hours on end.

In the final part of the lesson Fiona filmed us running and then we did some video analysis on the computer.  She gave each of us individual feedback, and my feedback was that I don't really use my arms at all and that I should try to use them more actively.  I also reach out slightly for the ground in front rather than opening up my stride at the back.  If I worked on these 2 points, apparently I would have a good Chi Running technique.

I found the workshop extremely informative, and if you too are interested in doing a Chi Running course in Zürich, the next one will take place on the 25th August.  Fiona will also be offering advanced courses as of the 22nd September.  You can visit her website for more information.


  1. I attended this course in June and found it quite informative and while I've not wholeheartedly applied every technique I did apply a lot of it to my running and have made some great gains over a short time. For the price I think it's great value for money, I'd be interested in trying the Pose workshop @ hillseeker fitness but the price puts me off.

  2. Hi Andrew. Yes Fiona's course is rather cheap at only 80chf. The Hillseeker drop in rate for Wednesday night running classes at Saalsporthalle is also rather cheap at only 25chf too though. Those are fitness focussed rather than technique focussed, but still loads of fun and I am a regular.

  3. Very informative, I have been thinking of doing Chi running training instead of my normal running group. How did your body feel after this workshop? Did you find you used your calf and core muscles more than usual?

  4. I used my core muscles more than normal running for sure, but the next day I felt absolutely fine. The muscles in the core used were the same ones I train in Pilates. I don't think that the calf muscles get much strain from Chi running because it focusses on a midfoot rather than forefoot landing. I usually only feel my calves a lot after running in my Vibrams on the road for some time.