Does Running Technique Matter: Pose vs Chi?

chirun

For many years, I’ve read and been taught that in order to be a better runner, you just need to run more miles. In other words, running is often considered a “training” sport and not a “technique” sport. As long as you can put the miles in, then you can finish the race.

But a new set of books is challenging the notion that technique is not involved in running. Both books focus on improving running form to make it more efficient and less impactful thereby increasing your speed and reducing injuries. It definitely makes sense to me, given that the best runners often have the best form. And form is so important to so many other sports, it seems that it must have some impact on running as well.

Let’s take a look at the two leading proponents of technique-based running: ChiRunning and The Pose Method.

ChiRunning

ChiRunning was created by Danny Dreyer, an American Ultramarathon runner and T’ai Chi practitioner. Here is the description of ChiRunning from his website:

ChiRunning combines the inner focus and flow of T’ai Chi with the power and energy of running to create a revolutionary running form and philosophy that takes the pounding, pain, and potential damage out of the sport of running. The ChiRunning program increases mental clarity and focus, enhances the joy of running, and turns running into a safe and effective lifelong program for health, fitness, and well-being.

This is a little too much marketing language for me, so let’s try to unwrap what ChiRunning is all about. After reading the ChiRunning Book, I’d summarize its key lessons into three parts:

  1. Finding the “Chi” in ChiRunning
  2. Learning the ChiRunning Technique
  3. Applying the ChiRunning Exercises

The book starts by describing the advantages of ChiRunning and how to be “mindful” when running. This section often strikes runners as a little out there without a lot of practical benefit. It does work to set-up the rest of the book, but is probably a bit long and too focused on eastern mysticism for my taste.

The next section gets into the heart of the book. It begins to walk through the different aspects of the ChiRunning technique such as proper posture and “the lean”. I found this portion of the book to be excellent in providing the mental framework for what ChiRunning actually is. 

The final section outlines many exercises to help you perfect ChiRunning such as leaning against a wall to feel the proper lean. It also begins to give you techniques to focus on during your next run. These are all highly actionable and overall seem like ideas that would be worth trying for any interested runner.

Pose Method

The Pose Method is very similar to ChiRunning, but without the T’ai Chi influence and with more of a focus on key poses. Here is the description from their website:

The Pose Method is a system for teaching of human movement developed by a 2-time Olympic Coach Dr. Nicholas S. Romanov in 1977 in the former Soviet Union. The name of the method comes from the word "pose" or "body position".

If you analyze the movement of any body through time and space, you will clearly see that the body passes through an infinite number of positions. Most of the positions (or poses) are transitional movements and are the result, not the cause, of proper positioning.

The Pose running book follows a similar structure to the Chi Running book:

  1. Intro and Benefits of Pose Running
  2. Description of Pose Running Technique
  3. Application of Pose Running Technique

The first section of the book describes the history of how Dr. Romanov arrived at the Pose method. It walks through the history of running along with his personal journal as a coach and scientist. It serves the same purpose as the other book, and is mainly used to give back story and describe benefits of the technique.

The second section gets into what pose running actually is by describing key poses, free falling and rapid strides (among other things). Each section is graphically illustrated to give a visual idea of what he’s describing.

The last section gives a large variety of exercises that help one to learn the Pose Method and to strengthen their muscles. Overall this book a has a more scientific feel and less eastern mysticism as compared to ChiRunning. Though ChiRunning might be better for beginners who just want the basics without a lot of scientific details.

Key Concepts

In many ways, Pose and Chi are very similar. Let’s take a quick look at the key concepts covered by both:

  • The Lean: The lean is a fundamental concept in both methods. It is best illustrated by the graphic at the top. The idea is that you gently lean forward from the ankles (not from the waist) and allow gravity to propel you forward. This uses less effort, and turns running into falling forward and catching yourself.
  • Straight Line: Both methods use a similar graphic to the one at the top of this post to ensure that a straight line can be drawn from the foot to the neck. Both have exercises to encourage your straight line posture.
  • Relaxation: Both methods encourage relaxation when running and state that tensed muscles is often what leads to injuries. ChiRunning states that only your lower abs should be tight while the rest of your body should be loose. The Pose Method talks about how must runners pound the pavement too hard by not working with gravity. It encourages them to loosen up, and gently lift their legs rather than pushing off.
  • Minimalist Shoes: Both methods argue that running shoes with thickly padded heals encourages poor running form such as heal striking. ChiRunning has a certified minimalist shoe that was created in conjunction with New Balance. The Pose Method goes even further and has a whole chapter on the benefits of running barefoot. The pose method is also recommended by many barefoot runners such as the famed Ken Bob.

In my opinion the differences are relatively minor with ChiRunning having more of a focus on mindful running and meditation while the Pose Method takes a more scientific approach. At this point, it’s too early for me to tell which is better. I’ve read both books, but have just started to put them into practice.

At the end of the day though, I’m for anything that can help me run faster and longer without injury. I will let you know if these books deliver on their promises…

4 Comments » for Does Running Technique Matter: Pose vs Chi?
  1. Bryant, Thank you for your post.

    Although the concept of a forward lean is consistent between the two techniques (Chi/Pose), almost all else is very different: – Foot landing (full-foot or mid-foot vs. fore-foot) – Calf/lower leg usage (disengaged vs. active) – Leg motion (knees low vs. knees lifted via heel ‘pull’) – Cadence (constant vs. variable) – Emphasis on a level pelvis (Chi) – Pelvic rotation (Chi) – Emphasis on arm swing (Chi)

    As you noted, Chi could be considered more ‘mindful’ in that focusing on technique creates a mind/body exercise vs. mind over body. Both methods use science/physics, however they do differ in their application due to differences in efficiency/injury-prevention vs. speed emphasis.

    Thanks again for a great post and spreading the concept of focusing on technique for a more conscious approach to running.

    Happy running, David.

  2. Bryant says:

    @David: Thanks for the detail.

    After reading both books they seemed pretty similar at a high-level, but as you point out as you get into the details of the implementation there are some big differences.

  3. Clynton says:

    Thanks so much for putting together this thoughtful, thorough, and descriptive summary of the two methods. I had figured they were similar from what I had heard and read, now I know they are. As someone practicing forefoot running with minimal shoes, these methods both seem to have information and guidance that will help.

  4. Bryant, Here is a recent blog post of mine on this subject I thought you might like: – http://echifitness.com/blog/2010/03/23/significant-differences-between-pose-method-and-chirunning/

    Enjoy, David.