As heel striking continues to get a bad name (and in actuality, overstriding may be the really bad culprit) many people are looking for a way to change their running form. Other things can also contribute to a runner’s desire to change their form: shin splints, knee pain, back pain and other ills can be a strong motivator as well. Some runners can “just do it” – change their form on their own. Others look for a program or system to help them adopt a more efficient running form.
For someone looking to study a system to help them change their running form three options come up the most frequently: Pose Method, Chi Running and Evolution Running. While proponents of each program will say each is unique in it’s own way (and that is correct – each program has it’s unique parts) in my opinion there is a core set of principles that are essentially common to all:
- Erect body posture
- Forward lean and the concept of falling forward (The phrase “gravity pulling you forward” is sometimes used, which is confusing. Gravity pulls you down, not forward. However if a rigid body is not perfectly vertical it falls down. If you fall down and then put your foot down to prevent you from falling to the ground, from a practical standpoint, you’ve taken a step. Repeat that over and over and you’re running.)
- Short stride length
- Relatively high foot cadence - ~180 bpm minimum
- Some sort of non-heel-first footstrike
With this article I’m not purporting that one of these methods is “the best”. The forums have a variety of highly emotional threads arguing this point. I’m a firm believer that each of us are different enough that what might be best for me may not be best for you. My goal is to give an exceptionally high level overview of each and, hopefully, the reader will use this as a launching off point to go learn more about what interests them. That being said, I consider myself a Pose runner and I definitely feel the most comfortable with that program.
Pose Method – http://www.posetech.com/
Pose Method of Running was developed by Dr. Nicholas Romanov. Romanov’s model is centered on the concept that the running gait begins and ends with a body position that is balanced and relaxed – The Pose. The Pose is defined to be a one-legged stance with the head, shoulders and hips aligned over the ball of the foot. The airborne foot is up under the hips. Running becomes a sequence of falling forward from this position, having the airborne leg drop to keep us from falling to the ground, using the hamstring pulling the trailing foot into the airborne position, and then returning to The Pose, but now on the opposite leg. Pose Method advocates the use of a very lightweight, thin soled shoe and not conventional padded running shoes. The belief is that the foot needs to feel the ground if the nervous system is going to fire the right muscles to deal with landing. The website maintains a list of “Pose approved” shoes.
In my opinion Pose Method is the most detailed, specific and exacting of the three methods. In fact, there is a standard which defines whether a runner is actually running Pose or not. I’m not familiar with all of the components of the standard (and 99% of people don’t need to be). An example of one component of this standard: A runner should take no more than two video frames to get from whole foot landing to Pose position. Some people welcome this type of structure and detail. Others find it limiting and frustrating.
The book itself has more content than just information about the running method. There are a large number of drills, strengthening and flexibility exercises. Hip strength is very important in adopting a method like Pose and the book provides some outstanding exercises to build up that strength. The drills are another key component of the method. The running sequence is quite a complex set of movements. The drills exist to help the runner understand and learn to feel the movements so that, when actually moving, it’s easier for the pieces to come together effectively.
Below is a slow-motion video of Jacky, a Pose-certified coach. Notice how the landing foot is directly underneath the hips upon landing. Also notice the complete relaxation of the ankle while the foot is airborne.
Chi Running – http://www.chirunning.com/
Danny Dreyer developed Chi Running with the desire of creating a way to run in a more efficient, less injury-prone manner. He leveraged some core concepts (pun intended) from Thai Chi – a methodology that has been around for thousands of years. He worked with his Thai Chi instructor Master George Xu to take these concepts and apply them to the running motion.
Chi Running focuses a lot on posture and using the core muscles as a key component of movement. It advocates very relaxed extremities while maintaining a solid core. Chi Running believes that the psoas is a key muscle that should be used for hip flexion/knee lift. It also advocates swinging the leg with a bent knee behind the body.
As far as shoes are concerned Chi Running advocates use of a shoe that is less padded than conventional running shoes, but I believe there are shoes that Chi Running would find acceptable that the Pose program would not. (i.e. Pose advocates a more minimal shoe, in general, than Chi Running does) I’m not saying Chi Running is against minimal shoes – not at all. In fact Danny Dreyer talks about the benefits of barefoot running in the book.
Chi Running probably has the best name recognition of the three programs. I’ve seen a number of Chi Running articles in some of the mainstream media. Many runners aren’t yet familiar with this genre of running programs but, if they have, chances are they’ve heard about Chi Running. My guess/sense, both from the program specifics as well as reports in the forums, is that Chi Running is learned more quickly than Pose because it is not as detailed and exact. That doesn’t mean one is better than the other – just different.
This is the best example video I could find of Chi Running. To be clear I think it actually was put together by a Pose advocate to comment on the Chi Running program. The audio does not work so hopefully that enables the viewer to focus on only what the running itself looks like. Pay particular attention to the footstrike. The Chi Running book advocates a midfoot strike, but it sure doesn’t look to be a midfoot strike in these clips. (More on this point later.)
Evolution Running – http://www.evolutionrunning.com/
Of the three programs I know the least about Evolution Running. The program was developed by Ken Mierke. Ken is mentioned in Chris McDougall’s highly successful book Born To Run. Evolution Running advocates glute and hamstring muscles for propulsion. One component that is different from the other programs is that it also advocates beginning the foot’s rearward movement before the foot contacts the ground. Whereas the other two programs tend to target recreational runners, it appears (in my opinion) that Evolution Running is targeting the more serious/competitive athlete and triathlete.
The program is available via DVD. This DVD received very high praise from Last Place Jason (Jason Robillard) on the Runner’s World Barefooting forum. Jason said it’s put together very well and is a great resource for new barefoot/minimalist runners. Jason also did an article on the DVD on his Barefoot Chronicles website. You can find the article here.
Here is a video showing the Evolution Running technique.
It’s pretty entertaining to watch people argue which of these programs is “the best”. I’ve concluded that choosing which one is for you is a “Coke or Pepsi?” decision. They’re both colas. They’re both carbonated. They’re both sweet and refreshing. At the end of the day it comes down to which one tastes best to you – which one you like the best.
I tried Chi Running and I just didn’t like it. It didn’t click. In the book Dreyer makes frequent refereces to Chi and Thai Chi. Those linkages didn’t work for me. I’m not saying they’re not valid concepts; I think I’m quite open to both Eastern and Western concepts. For example, one aspect of good posture in Chi Running is leveling the pelvis. For most that means having a slight contraction of the lower abdominals to bring the front of the pelvis up. Dreyer describes not doing this results in “spilling Chi”. Well, that’s interesting, but it doesn’t help me and my brain understand why that posture component is important. I also see inconsistency between what I see in the video and an article Dreyer wrote a while ago. In the article Dreyer talks about the evils of dorsiflexion, yet in the video he is dorsiflexing all over the place. The bottom line: When I tried putting the Chi Running pieces together my brain went into overload and it felt like I was trying to do 20 things simultaneously.
When studying Pose Method the drills really helped me focus on the individual movements and components. I worked with a Pose-certified coach to help me with the essential concepts. (Maybe that was my issue with Chi Running – I should have hired a coach.) To help people assess whether they are meeting the Pose standard or not there is a commonly accepted consistent method for getting feedback where the runner makes a video (either drills or running) taken perpendicular to the direction the runner would be or is traveling. This provides a consistent way for the coaches on the forum to provide feedback. Another reason I like Pose Method is because you learn to use a variety of senses to “check in” and see if things are going well. How do your shoes sound hitting and leaving the ground? If it’s different than tap-tap-tap something is wrong. How does your ankle feel as it’s moving through the air? Relaxed? Are you pushing off as the foot leaves the ground? Does the pull while running feel like the drills? At first, like Chi Running, it felt like I was trying to do 20 things at once. The coaches, however, suggested I pick just one or two areas to focus on during a run and forget about everything else. “Focus only on the pull. You can work on other stuff later.” I might do that for a few runs, then I’d focus/learn something else. In a business seminar I took a long time ago the instructor asked “How do you eat an elephant?” The answer was “One elephant hamburger at a time.” By freeing my brain to learn only one skill at a time I chipped away at the running form elephant and then, I realized, I was running Pose (or very close to it).
If you’re really interested in changing your form prepare yourself to work pretty hard. Old habits are hard to break. There will probably be moments you’d like to give up. Sometimes it might appear all too easy to just throw in the towel and go back to the old way. However if you persevere there will likely come a time when it will click and, all of a sudden, you’ll realize you’re running in a new way and it feels amazingly natural and good and free. And hopefully this will be the start of easier, more enjoyable, and more injury-free running.