Is Chi Running truly effortless running? - Chi Living

Is Chi Running truly effortless running?

Posted by Danny Dreyer on Tue Nov 17th, 2009, 16 comments

I’d like to clear up a bit of confusion about Chi Running that seems to crop up every now and then. Some runners have come to Chi Running workshops expecting their running to feel effortless by the end of the class. Then they write us afterwards and complain that they didn’t feel as though they got their money’s worth from the class.

I feel unequivocally confident in stating that Chi Running can be effortless and injury-free, BUT the process of learning is distinctly not effortless. If it were, it wouldn’t be called a mindful practice. If anything in your life feels effortless, it means that you have already attained some level of mastery with it. And, it follows that if you want to master anything you must take the time to put a lot of practice and concentration into all aspects of it…mind, body and feelings…everything in your power to do the best with it that you can. We are all surrounded by a result-oriented, instant gratification society. But, if someone wants effortless running to come easy they’re missing the whole point of what we’re trying to teach.

Everyone’s body responds to learning something new in a very individual way. Some folks find it easy to feel the correct leg swing, while others find it easier to feel what good posture feels like. Are all of my runs effortless? Hardly. But the more I use the Chi Running focuses the higher the odds are that my runs will feel effortless.

Mindful work takes immersion, concentration, surrender…and sometimes even a good dose of “suspended disbelief.” It’s not a path for lazy people and nothing that is truly life-changing happens overnight. There are exceptions to every rule, but we’re not marketing exceptions.

“The Practice becomes the goal.”




  • injury-free running,
  • effortless running,
  • internal practice,
  • mindful running,
  • running classes

16 CommentsLeave a comment below

Great post Danny. I hope there are as many comments on this as there are for the shoes post below. It goes along with the instant gratification, we search for products (shoes) that will do the ChiRunning for us, when we are already born with the best products on the market; the body, mind, and spirit. Hence the title “born to run”

Danny—I think the distinction you make in your book is exactly right—“ChiRunning is not running with no effort—it’s running with no UNNECESSARY effort” (I’m paraphrasing because I don’t have the book in front of me!)  I’m a ChiRunning beginner, but I already feel like I’m putting in less physical effort and more mental effort.  It’s a fascinating shift, particularly when I realize I’m moving just as fast (or faster).  I find that body scans are a great tool for engaging the mind and disengaging the body.

Great post Danny, not only for your insight but for the comments it generated. I love it when students like Thayer (who commented here about “putting in less physical effort and more mental effort”) “get it.”

Spot on post. Two years after starting to learn Chi Running, including the great class in Death Valley, I practice running for love and spirit. I learn something new nearly every day. Effortless? No. Worth the effort? Absolutely. I was born to run, it just slipped my mind for 30 years.

Sometimes I feel that it is “effortless” and sometimes I don’t.  I think that using “perfect” chirunning form it is effortless or at least very close to it.  But no one runs perfect chirunning all of the time.  Physically as well as mentally varies from one run to the next.

A few months ago I had hip pain. I discovered I needed new shoes and bought a pair. The new shoes got rid of my hip pain. To prevent future injuries, I read the ChiRunning book and starting adapting the technique. I have to say that ChiRunning might work for some. As for me, I’m switching back to heel striking. I understand the braking issue, however, I always have sore calves, always have sore quads, always have sore hamstrings, IT band issues and had achilles tendonitis in 8 short weeks of ChiRunning. I never had this many issues in a short time with heel striking. Further more, I miss running without thinking. ChiRunning make me think too much and clearing my mind was one reason I took up running. I had a few good runs with ChiRunning and I will continue to use the posture with less forward lean. I hope my pains go away. Good luck to the runners who start ChiRunning. It may work better for new runners. But it’s hard to reprogram an experience runner like me. I tried but I don’t enjoy running as much when I hurt and have to think too much.

Fantastic post.  And perfect timing—I was just thinking about “what effort means to me” during this morning’s run.  Then I snapped out of it and got back to considering the form and increasing my total body/mind awareness.  smile

karen zobell Nov 24th, 2009 09:48am

Hi Danny:  Do you think ChiRunning is possible after total hip replacement? I am in good shape, 51, and would love to be able to work out outside.  Karen

Hi Karen,
I’m not a doctor, so I can’t officially give you the go ahead to run, but what I would do if I were you would be to begin a ChiWalking program. You’ll learn all the same focuses as we teach with ChiRunning, but there will be less impact on your hip while you’re getting yourself going again. If after awhile, you feel confident and strong enough in your core, you might want to upgrade to running for brief periods just to try out your hip and legs to see how they respond. My best advice is to always listen FIRST to your body and let it guide you through the process. One thing to also pay attention to is to figure out how to not continue doing the sort of movement patterns that caused you to have to get your hip replaced to begin with… especially if you want that new hip to last.

All the best,

I went through the clinic this morning and have already felt great results.  I enjoyed reading this post because it underlines the reason I wanted to learn Chi running in the first place.  If I wanted effortlessness, I would have stayed on the couch. I enjoy putting in a solid effort, I just don’t want it to hurt.  I started doing triathlons almost two years ago.  I love swimming and biking, but honestly haven’t enjoyed running for many years.  While training for my last tri, I joked (not really) that I wanted the event to be changed to swim, bike, golf. That’s not going to happen, so if I want to continue, I’d better learn to enjoy running.  I feel confident that Chi running will get me there.

Certified Instructors Blog » Slow Down to Li Nov 30th, 2009 10:07am

[...] his blog, Danny spoke about the process of learning the ChiRunning technique requiring effort, and that the [...]

Running, Chi, has not made me faster.  After five years I am a bit slower. I have learned to manage my effort so that I feel good as I run. Pleasure, the fun of running, has completely changed my goal.  I don’t need placing well in my age group to make it worth the pain any more. It took the first four years to gain the form and endurance to be able to get to this place.  I wouldn’t be surprised if my speed increases, (Dreyer’s pyramid), but I won’t give up my ease of chi-form and slowly building endurance, to get there sooner.

Dave Saltmarsh Dec 7th, 2009 03:29pm

I ran a 9.5 mile leg of a team relay this weekend and I had so much fun. It wasn’t effortless but because I was practicing several form focuses it wasn’t the physical effort I usually but myself through. My mind was engaged. Listening to a metronome on my iPhone and really thinking of my breathing made me forget or should I say avoid the muscles being part of the effort. At one point Danny’s voice came on my iPod because it was set to shuffle.. thanks for reminding me of my posture! The effort to engage the pelvic rotation was what I focus on the last 2.5 miles. Those last few miles were my fastest and an effort I hadn’t felt in year. New found muscles I forgot that I had were put into motion. Afterwards without the normal calf and quad throbbing I realize that I had beaten my previous best time on that leg. I just wish it had been longer.

I was in your workshop in Asheville in early June. You may remember me.  I drove down from Maryland, was one of the older students, at 66, and was perhaps the most challenged student there. I have been through an evolution with ChiRunning. Before I came to the workshop I had read the book and thought I was close to mastery. Obviously not so.  Then after a few months of digesting what I learned at the workshop, I had my best 5k in a couple of years.  I thought I was on my way.  But, in the early Fall I pulled a calf muscle while doing interval runs.  I have finally begun the “monitoring on the run” process you suggested and am now usually able to successfully adjust when I feel tightness or discomfort.  There are 2 things that I have found to be key to getting it right.  First,the stride. Mine was too long and I have only recently felt that I have it right.  I now know what you mean by simply picking your feet up and putting them down and it makes all the difference.  My tight calves have pretty much gone away. The other key for me is the “C shape.” I have finally learned to feel the “window of lean.” I am able to actually feel my abs holding me up as I lean.  These keys, at least for me, took time to learn.  I had not only to understand them but to “feel” them.  It was the feeling that took the time. I’m sure my evoltion is still not complete but I feel very good about my direction and my “gradual progress.”

Hope you and your family have a wonderful Christmas.


Don Marvel

michael turnbull Dec 12th, 2009 11:15pm

Have recently come to your book and DVD and tried out the technic yesterday in a marathon (not really recommended given the first time)and found it great for the first 21km. however, the top of my quads started to feel stiff as i got to 30km and i think it might be due to a first time try rather than doing the pelvic level wrong.i shall certainly persist but wonder if you have any a long time runner and have completed over 100 marathons and done a few ultras.

Hi Danny, I have been applying your focuses for about six months now and would like to give my take on the “effortless run” and the muscle soreness that a converted heel-striker feels. As a former heel striker, I think that I was using too much joint and not enough muscle to absorb the impact - I too was sore for the first month. But as my muscles became stronger (and seemingly more elastic) the soreness went away and now I run completely pain free - my knees and hips used to ache after a run. Muscle soreness goes away, while joint pain aches chronically.
As for the feeling of effortlessnes, I tend to view it as “the body running itself”. There is still physical effort, but I don’t seem to be doing anything, my body takes over and all I have to worry about is staying relaxed.

What are your thoughts?

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