Advantage running: the science of running using the art of Chi

by Gordon de Souza


Starting to run might seem easy. And running pain free for the newbie or the veteran can be a miracle of sorts.

Though we were born to run free, we don’t. Our ‘seated’ lifestyle glued to the TV and computer screens have kept us far from our roots. But for those who have inadvertently or suddenly found out the pure joys of running and the space and freedom it brings, well, congratulations!

So is it as easy as putting on a pair of shoes and run as far as you want? Yes itis…and no, if you’re considering the physical state you’re in if you’re a beginner.

Why not run proper right from the beginning? Why not use Chi running®? 

When I first saw Taiji Quan coach Master Rennie Chong at his training centre in Toa Payoh sports hall with his uniform line of people moving in unison and most importantly in slow motion, I could not relate running to Tai Chi. The hall was very cold. The students looked very relaxed. Hey, paying a hundred bucks a month, moving that slow in a cool environment as a recreational sport cannot possibly give anyone a good workout.  

I waited until Master Chong went through some of the Taiji Quan moves before I went to the 68-year-old man who was sweating to his arms; strange for a man moving so slow.

As we spoke on chi-running and how Taiji Quan relates to the laws of physics, physiology and martial arts, like centre of gravity, core muscle groups, and explosive punches, I was still wondering why this man was still pouring out sweat. He immediately answered my question.

“Come let’s find your chi,” he said.

I was taken aback. How did he know I had a chi? Anyway, what’s a chi?

“Left leg in front and leverage with your right behind. Find your centre in your upper chest. Put out your hand and bend your elbow. Focus on your centre and hold me back,” said Master Chong.

Ashe pushed me hard, I concentrated and stood my ground like a rock. My positioning made it easy to hold him off without any muscular effort. But within seconds beads of sweat started to form on my brow. I could feel the heat building up inside my body. As he released the pressure. I felt as if my arm had just been through a weight training routine, but overall strangely invigorated.

“It really all about science and physics. It’s about understanding how physics is working on the body and capitalising on it” said Master Chong.

Bearing the weight of this discovery, I found a source of where the power of Taiji Quan assimilated with running techniques to produce optimal and injury-free running.

Danny Dreyer author of the book Chi Running: A Revolutionary Approach to Effortless, Injury-free Running is the kind of guy who does what he writes. An ultra marathoner Dreyer’s work on Chi running® is based on his study of Tai Chi with Master Zhu Xilin and internationally renowned Master George Xu.

The programme teaches people bio-mechanically correct running form that’s in line with the laws of physician relation with the ancient principles of movement found in Tai Chi.Chi Running® technique is based on the same principles and orientation as Yoga, Pilates, and Tai Chi: working with core muscles; integrating mind and body; and focusing on overall and long term performance and well-being.

In a nutshell, Chi Running® is about levelling the pelvis, because that is how we engage the deep muscles of the abdomen and create a strong core, around which everything else can flow freely.  A functional core is the centre of Chi Running®. It allows your body to be supported by its structure rather than muscles. Add to this a lean, which allows you to use gravity to draw you forward.  With gravity doing the work, one does not need to use hamstrings to pull one forward.  An engaged core takes pressure off your lower back, keeps your hips from rocking side to side, and keeps your upper body properly aligned with your lower body. 

Chi Running® – Getting Started

Before we begin we must understand we are using the philosophy of the most ancient form of martial art, dating back 2,500 years. We must also understand we are not dealing with verbal mumbo-jumbo but pure physics that claim to improve running technique and impede injury.

Key Principles

1. Cotton and Steel: Gather your centre

One the main principles of Tai Chi, it means concentration of the chi energy to your body, while your hands and legs are as soft as cotton, holding no tension. According to Tai Chi your centre or dantian is located just below your navel and in front of your spine. It may sound like an irony, but the less you use your legs and more into the dantian, you will find fluidity in your gait, which gets you moving with less fuel and more efficiently.

2. Gradual Process

Chi running is physics and not magic at work. Strict obedience to the laws of physical science and human physiology in the sense of muscle growth and physical conditioning is a must. Chi running is a very exciting way of running well but it must be paced to suit your physical state. Most injuries in Singapore and the world is a direct result of overtraining; either too many miles or too much speed.

3. The Pyramid : The Small Is Supported By The Large

Think about it. When we run, we pump our legs using the calves, which is the smaller when compared to the quads. After 2 hours it, we can see shin splints as a common result. In Chi Running you will concentrate using your pso as muscles, hips and down to your quads. That’s like using your core and your strongest muscles doing the work, instead of ignoring the natural law of physics by having the small supporting the large.

4. Balance In Motion: Equal Balance And Complementary Balance

The principles of yin/yang represent a huge part in Chi running. Just as in the symbol for yin/yang, where one side gets larger and the other gives in, as in muscular expansion and contraction, chi running is about balance.

In Chi running as in Tai Chi, balance happens in 6directions: left to right, up to down, and front and back. So when you run forward Chi running style, we need to look at the complementing move to the rear. Another area of imbalance that can be address is how we alienate the rest of our bodies and engage only our legs to propel us forward. An interesting parallel would be that of a cheetah running, where every fibre of muscle is fired in unison, from the neck through its tail.

Understanding the principles of Chi running is the cornerstone that leads to the learning about the pillars of Chi running form which is posture, lean and relaxed lower legs. These are also the pillars of injury prevention as how you hold your bod yand how your foot land is very important in reducing or stopping the source of pain.

As I watched Master Chong’s students move to the 37-step Yang Style Taiji Quan, Professor Hang from the National University of Singapore’s Electrical Engineering Department, came up to me, also dripping in sweat in the cold hall. An avid sportsman, and now mostly a golfer, Prof. Hang spoke of how the paradox of relaxed muscles being more efficient and how many of the sporting greats like Tiger Woods have found the sublime techniques of using core muscles and finding their own chi in their own way.

As I watched the good professor rejoin the band of Tai Chi students, many of who have been there easily 4 years, I realised that Master Rennie Chong and Professor Hang never did show me any of the running techniques.

It’s an indication that they were not specialist in the actual Chi Running techniques, which leads on the question – Being a nation that respects the pragmatism of western science as well as eastern alternative medicine and philosophy, would Singapore be the best place to develop Chi running for herself and for the region?


Advantage running: the science of running using the art of Chi © 2008 Gordon de Souza

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