The Search for the Perfect Running Stride - Chi Living

The Search for the Perfect Running Stride

Posted by Danny Dreyer on Wed Oct 14th, 2015, 14 comments

The Search for the Perfect Running Stride

I'll be the first to admit… I'd love to have the perfect running stride. Is there really a perfect stride? I don't think so. Perfection can be good to shoot for, but it's not a goal that can be reached. And, for us humans, perfection is a disappointment waiting to happen.

Is there an ideal stride? Most definitely. Here's how I define the ideal running stride: It's moving with the least amount of perceived exertion given the speed you're running or the conditions you're encountering.

This means you're constantly asking yourself the question: Am I doing everything I can to minimize my effort while meeting the demands of my current conditions.

So, the ideal stride is reachable for any given situation. But, be aware that the same stride might not apply to the next situation you run into. We are all met with continuously changing conditions whenever we run, so what might be ideal one minute will most likely not be the next minute.

Kaizen is a wonderful Japanese term I first heard about from Terry Laughlin, founder of Total Immersion Swimming. It is generally defined as: the practice of continuous improvement. It is a combination of the words: (kai) change and (zen) to become good. In ChiRunning and ChiWalking we call it the principle of Gradual Progress. But, regardless of what you call it, it seems to be quite a different approach to our culture's emphasis on instant gratification. It's different for everyone, but there are definitely principles you can use to help you achieve a lower perceived rate of exertion.

The best approach to an ideal stride must employ a whole-body system of movement while making the best use of the laws of physics. Here are four prime things to watch for when searching for that ideal stride:

  • Balanced forward motion: Are you leaning from your dantien and allowing gravity to assist you?
  • Relaxation: Are you holding any tension outside the use of your abs to hold you in a forward balance?
  • Not landing in front of your knees: Are your feet striking ahead of your knees (creating braking) or are they bent and landing more beneath or behind your knees?
  • Proportional effort distributed over the whole body: Is there any part of your body doing more than its fair share of the total workload? Are the larger muscles doing the heavy work and the smaller muscles doing the lighter work?

In the end, it comes down to, what is the best thing you could do, in this moment, to create the best results… or in this case, the ideal stride?

Perfection does happen sometimes. They're those moments of truly effortless running that just blow you away. In ChiRunning the perfect stride, for you, is the sum of many different moving parts working at their peak efficiency with no one part doing more than it’s share, or not cooperating with the other parts.

It may sound like a tall order, but when it happens, it’s not perfection, it’s magic.

14 CommentsLeave a comment below

Hi there!
What you explained is clear and works just fine in practice. I started to study your first book this summer and got great improvements either in training or race. It’s a pity there’s no chance to become instructor in Italy. Keep up the good work

Craig Castellana Oct 14th, 2015 05:49pm

Thanks Danny You are beyond timely with this post! So here is the Readers Digest Version… I had not run more than 100 feet in 30 years. March of 2013, I was 52 years of age and had discovered Chi Running after reading an article in Runner’s World magazine. I ordered the book and DVD and April of 2013 Started my life lessons in Chi Running. I became a student and read and trained and read again and trained again. I dragged my wife to a Day Session with Danny in Orlando in February of 2014 where I purchased the Chi Marathon/Half Marathon book. My first half marathon was November 2014 2:17 time then two weeks later I PR’d a half marathon at 2:06 time then two months later January 2015 a 2:09 half marathon. I kept running and in June 2015 finished my first Sprint Triathlon always in that 10 minute/mile range.

I have experienced a particular phenomena in my Stride several times in my training over the past two and a half years which is; I will be running and I will feel my column sync up from the bottoms of my feet to the top of my head, I will feel my lean increase and my speed as well all with a natural effortless comfort and then suddenly I will feel my body settle back. I use a run meter that is set to report time and distance on the mile. The first occasion of this phenomena I set out and when I hit the 1st mile mark the audio voice said “Distance 1 mile, Pace 6 minutes 35 seconds per mile” I yelled out loud “No Way” and instantly felt my body decelerate as if I had a full body leash that was braking my speed. Recently I set out for a short run and after a mile my body synced up into my columnar lean and I felt the same acceleration and effortless movement with all the elements of good Chi Form in check but this lasted only briefly. When I returned home to review my run I was astonished to see that for two tenths of a mile I had clocked a 5 minute mile, Ok it was only a thousand feet but it was still measurable the point is I knew it was Chi Form in its purest sense. So, what am I doing? Knowing me my head is in the way but I am not sure why I can go from a plodding 1st gear to a fully aligned and in sync 4th gear and not be able to maintain the pace or back off to a distance pace of 3rd gear. It seems I have no in-between and 3rd or 4th gear is just a phenomenon for me. So any advice, Danny et. al., would be truly appreciated.

Thank you, Denny. The best summary of your ideas I have read!

Michele Shorts Oct 14th, 2015 06:55pm

It reminds me of golf. You can go out and play 18 holes and you may have one or two shots during your round you feel you hit just right. So you get back out there because you want to feel that again. I feel that way when I’m running and thinking about the principles I’ve learned in Chi running. Once in a while I think I get it right and it feels like I’m just along for the ride. So I want to get back out there and experience that again.

Thanks Danny for the perfect articulation for reaching for that magic that is unmistakeable and so achievable when I practice ChiRunning!

I will try the 4 things you suggest in the morning. Ty

Jimmy Edwards Oct 15th, 2015 01:26pm

I have your Chi Running book and DVD, and have gotten a lot out of them. I need to figure out a way to convince my 22 year old college distance running son to grasp the concept. I need a simple, concise and easily understood explanation of Chi Running to pass soling to my son, who really needs help with his technique, I believe. He has suffered from chronic tight calves, and “dead legs,” for several years, and especially since increasing his workout mileage and intensity when he got to college. Unfortunately, he won’t sit still long enough to read long passages or watcha DVD. What is the best way to describe proper Chi Running form, in concise terms. Please contact me to discuss. Thanks!

Deborah chappa Oct 15th, 2015 07:44pm

Subtle. Simple. Sublime. This is why I’ve been an injury-free Chi Runner for many years.

Anal D. Sholik Oct 19th, 2015 10:10am

It is very interesting information

Matt Whitehead Oct 19th, 2015 12:57pm

Hi Danny, While I agree with the overall premise of your article, I disagree with one statement you made:
“Relaxation: Are you holding any tension outside the use of your abs to hold you in a forward balance?”

You’ve jumped on the “abs” bandwagon like almost everyone else! The abs are not some special muscle group that can be held tight without negative consequences. Relaxation should apply to all muscles. You wouldn’t recommend someone running ten miles while holding their biceps tight. The same should be true of the abs. If someone does indeed have an anterior pelvic tilt you should point them toward therapists that will correct the anterior pelvic tilt instead of having them create more dysfunction by holding the abs tight.

“Perfect” running form (just like any other movement) is the result of close to perfect posture and muscle balance which many children under 7 or 8 still have. Adults can achieve better running form by correcting postural imbalances and muscle imbalances with specific therapy and then allowing their body to run naturally like kids do.

Here’s to us all enjoying happy pain free running!

really great info in this article….

thanks danny for fruitful advises!

I have read the book and done a 1 day course with Michelle Muldoon in the UK and am a work in progress as regards Chi Running practice. One day last Summer on the Downs near my home where I run early mornings when it’s light enough, I experienced a phenomenon of feeling like I was floating with my feet not touching the ground! It only lasted for 3 strides and I had no idea what I had been doing to suddenly engage everything perfectly, but now I know that it’s possible I intend to re-create that effortless feeling!

My speeds haven’t changed but as my son remarked about our recent 10k ‘you always recover quickly and never get injured’

Here’s to a dreamy first half-marathon in the Autumn grin

I am fairly new to Chi Running.  61 yrs old, but long history of exercising.  I ran for almost 40 yrs ( since the Marines) but constant injuries, and i always felt i was laboring.

I shortened my stride—183cadence w/ metro., also trying to run in heart rate zone of 115 - 125.  I pulled a hamstring yday.  I think i have the knee bend wrong.  I think i was bending too much. it felt like a strain.  Is there an ideal way to get the lower body into the correct position?  Also, i started with 3 mile runs and just bought 0 drop shoes.  Could the distance be a factor getting started?

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