3 Ways to Start Chi Running on the Right Foot

Starting a running program, or coming back from an injury or a long break, can give you a real sense of purpose. But, getting started can be daunting.

You might think to yourself:

  • "I'll ruin my knees."
  • "I'm too old to start running."
  • "I'm too out of shape. I get winded running down the block."
  • "People who run are all fanatics.”

With the Chi Running technique, none of these fears have to be truths. Humans are meant to run. And when you learn to run with sound biomechanics combined with a sensible program, you can significantly reduce the risks of pain and injury. It doesn't have to be hard to get started, but it is wise to begin carefully and with a plan. Before buying fancy gear, planning routes, and researching new shoes, make technique your first priority.

Step 1: Chi Posture

For everyone—beginners, seasoned competitors, everyone—the most important element of running is your posture. Good posture helps reduce fatigue and improve your efficiency, as it allows your structure to support your body weight, not your muscles. Follow these steps to get into your best posture:

  1. Align your body -- Make sure your feet point straight ahead and are hip width apart. Stand tall, and lengthen your spine by lifting the crown of your head while dropping your chin slightly. Lengthening your spine opens your chest and allows you to breathe more fully.
  2. Level your Pelvis -- Engage your lower abs and lift your pelvis up slightly. This strengthens your core and prevents you from arching your lower back. Be sure not to create a posterior pelvic tilt (lifting your pelvis too much), as this will cause you to tighten your glutes and restrict your leg swing.
  3. Practice the One-Legged Posture Stance -- In your best posture, stand with your feet together and your knees softly bent. Lift one heel off the ground so that your weight shifts from one foot to the other. Hold this for five seconds and then switch legs. This is also known as the support phase of your stride -- each time you take a step, this is how your body should feel.

Step Two: Engage Your Lean

Once you feel good in your posture, use gravity to your advantage by leaning forward very slightly from the ankles.

  1. While jogging slowly, check in with your posture line and make sure your pelvis is level.
  2. Drop your focus to the bottoms of your feet.
  3. Keep your feet hitting underneath you and let your entire posture line tilt in front of where your feet are hitting.

You should feel your speed pick up with just a slight lean. Feel the effect of the lean by running for 15 seconds, then bring yourself back to your original upright position, but keep moving forward. Then stop running and walk. Repeat this exercise to feel how gravity can assist your movement.

Keep in mind that the lean is very slight. If you begin to feel any tension in your calves or shins, you're leaning too far forward.

Step 3: Your First Run

  1. Relax. Don't let the first run overwhelm you. Actually, pretend you're not running. Imagine that every time your foot hits the ground, you're just doing a one-legged posture stance. Keep your limbs loose, and remember to breathe deeply and fully exhale.
  2. Keep your stride short. Take very, very small steps. Not only does this prevent you from picking up speed too quickly, your feet will land underneath your center of mass. When your feet land in front of your body, you heel strike, which sends waves of impact up your shins, knees, and hips with every step.
  3. Take walk breaks. Run for as long as you're comfortable, whether it's 30 seconds or five minutes. If you feel out of breath, walk until your breath recovers. Practice this walk/run method for 10-15 minutes. Do more if you feel you can handle it. But, your Chi Running technique comes first, so you should only increase your distance for as long as you can hold your technique.
  4. Check in with how you feel. Set your watch to beep every two minutes to remind you to take note of any tension, pain or fatigue in your body. Make adjustments to your posture, lean and stride length according to the sensations you feel. Our troubleshooting section in the Chi Running book can help you address pain and discomfort with technique fixes and other methods.

ChiRunning teaches Gradual Progress, the principle that everyone (and everything) develops incrementally at a unique rate. As a new runner, you have the opportunity to learn good habits right from the start. Take it step by step. You will build distance and speed, and with proper technique, you'll do it more efficiently and without injuries.