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A Critical Review of ChiRunning by a barefoot runner,
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This review is from: ChiRunning: A Revolutionary Approach to Effortless, Injury-Free Running (Paperback)
I have been a barefoot runner since 2005, at which time I re-learned how to correctly run using my awareness and the teachings of numerous sources. I have read Danny Dryer's ChiRunning book and watched his ChiRunning DVD. I have also studied The Pose Running Technique on DVD and the workbook. In addition, I have experience practicing Qi Gong (Chi Kung), meditation, and yoga. I have also studied anatomy, posture, The Alexander Technique, and Rolfing Structural Integration. My partner is also a Chinese Medicine professional and Acupuncturist. So basically, I know a thing or two in this field...
In light of the acclaim that Danny Dryer is receiving for his ChiRunning technique, there are some critical errors and marketing misperceptions that I feel should be addressed. I base these insights on my own personal experience and my extensive research into natural running techniques and chi energy.
1. This book does not at all use the chi (qi) energy for running. Dryer teaches a method of using gravity to encourage the body to move through space. After reading and watching Dryer's published material, it is clear to me that he uses the term "chi" as a marketing strategy. All things eastern - yoga, tai chi, etc - are hot selling points these days. Yes, Dryer states that he has practiced Qi Gong under a teacher. However, nowhere in the DVD or book does he teach about the movement of chi the body, its pathways or its functions. Dryer should have title his technique "Gravity Running" instead.
2. Dryer combines a commonly misunderstood Pilates technique (tightening the core), claming it to be engaging the "hara" or "dan tien / tan tien". While the dan tien is the chi energy center below the navel, never are core muscles used when working with this center. Tightening any muscles will take a person's awareness away from the energy and into the muscular contraction sensation. Contracting muscles may create heat which is often believed to be chi by many beginners, however heat and chi are very different.
In the original Pilates technique, as taught by Joseph Pilates, only the largest, deepest muscles of the core are "engaged" not tightened. This is more akin to placing the awareness in the core while using only the softest tension. Most people misunderstand Pilates and tighten the abdominal muscles which then causes improper posture. Watching the ChiRunning DVD and observing Danny Dryer's posture, it is clear that his posture is far from ideal. Improper core tension and running technique could possibly be the cause of this, however other causes could also exist.
3. Dryer teaches to tighten the core muscle to tilt the pelvis. This lengthens the lower back, thus straightening the spine and removing the natural curve. By straightening the natural curve, the natural spring in the spine is removed leading to possible spine injury. Watching the DVD clearly shows the postural flaw caused by this unnatural movement. I am very suprised to see the noticably poor posture that Dryer and his students showed in this instructional video.
Also, by tightening the core muscles, excess tension is created in the body that will interfere with the body's natural movement. By creating tension in the core, the entire body is adversely affected because the core is the body's center of gravity and the psoas muscles in the deep core extend into the legs and upper back and ribs. Tension in the core will also restrict the rig cage's ability to expand sufficiently to allow proper oxygen in the lungs.
4. Landing on the middle of the foot works against the anatomy of the foot. The arch of the foot acts like a rubber band that allows the foot to spring forward when running on the ball and toes. Running with the middle of the foot first causes the ball and head to hit at the same time, causes jarring sensations in the foot, ankle, and leg.
As seen in the photos in the book and in the DVD video, Dryer wears modern full cushion running shoes that elevate the heal. Ask any expert in anatomy and/or Olympic-level running will teach, these shoes are injuries waiting to happen. A person can only get an accurate anatomical running experience by learning to run barefoot. Barefoot running quickly shows us how to correctly run. We can then return to running in shoes in a safer, more natural and more energy efficient way.
5. Danny Dryer encourages the runner to tilt the body forward, taking the work off of the muscles and letting gravity act as a source of propulsion. Yes, this does work. However this style of running does not make effective use of the muscles and creates a very awkward experience that does not feel natural. Observe the running style of the world's greatest Olympic athletes and you will see all long distance runners stand erect while landing on the ball and toes of the feet.
If you have read this far into my review, you may be left looking for a solution. My best recommendation is to read the book Running Fast and Injury Free by Gordon Pirie. Pirie has held many world records and Olympic medals. He is one of few runners who, in my opinion, has perfected the art of running. His principles are based upon a lifetime of learning from top Olympic runners and beating nearly all of them or their records. Since age 14, Pirie ran with Olympic record holders. In addition, Dr. Nicholas Romanov's Pose Method of Running contains value insights into the physiology of running.
Above all else, since most of us grew up in shoes, we must re-teach ourselves to walk and run as the body's design intends. We must learn to move barefoot. Even if we choose to run every race in shoes, learning to run while barefoot is a necessary part of the process. So find a soft stretch of dirt, sand, grass, sidewalk or road and get started. Skip 99.9% of the theory and get back to the reality of running. Use your mind to observe your body and make corrections as you go. And above all else - have fun!
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Showing 1-10 of 153 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Nov 23, 2009 11:16:11 AM PST
Sister Mary Agnes says:
I found this review very helpful. However, I cannot find the book Running Fast and Injury Free by Gordon Pirie anywhere. Has it been published yet?
In reply to an earlier post on Nov 23, 2009 11:46:59 AM PST
Unfortunately, the official Gordon Pirie website just went offline in Oct 2009, when Geocities closed. I emailed the owner and he said that it will not be coming back. This website had 2 versions of the ebook available for free download - with and without pictures. Now you'll need to Google the book title and see if you can find a copy online. This book never went to the printers, however Running Wild by Gordon Pirie is available in print on Amazon. I haven't yet read this book though. Good luck.
In reply to an earlier post on Dec 9, 2009 10:39:03 PM PST
Daniel Spach says:
Thanks Lincoln- I was looking for a book for my brother but was suspicious of the posture on the images. My only training in natural running is from what I was taught as "coyote running" Apache style. I don't run much because of past injury and pain but find barefoot by far the least taxing on the legs because of the changes in mechanics as you mention. Again, thanks. I'll look up Gordon Pirie.
In reply to an earlier post on Dec 16, 2009 3:01:32 PM PST
To read Running Fast and Injury Free by Gordon Pirie, visit Scribd.com and search: Running Fast and Injury Free by Gordon Pirie
In reply to an earlier post on Dec 16, 2009 3:01:56 PM PST
Here is a link to Running Fast and Injury Free by Gordon Pirie
Posted on Dec 29, 2009 10:14:59 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Dec 29, 2009 10:16:39 PM PST
C. Worthington says:
I just purchased the book after reading Christopher McDougall's "Born to Run," which gives this book somewhat of an endorsement (or at least a mention). At first, I thought this review was helpful, but after simply looking up "barefoot running" in the index of this book (to see if Dreyer mentions it or has an opinion), I realized you have not done justice to the book at all. It seems you either forgot or neglected to mention, or simply did not read, Dreyer's section of Chapter 6 titled "Shoes and Equipment," which begins on p. 165.
In this section, he specifically denounces thick-heeled shoes in a paragraph labeled "Your Shoes Can Hurt You," and addresses barefoot running directly (in a section titled "Barefoot Running" -- seems hard to miss if you actually read this book and didn't just watch a few videos/look at a few pictures of Dreyer in it). And in this section, he pretty much wholeheartedly endorses barefoot running as a training tool:
"I personally prefer finding a great shoe, but the reason why I support the concept is that running barefoot is the single fastest way to find out how good your form really is."
A few lines later"
"People who run barefoot as a rule have a much better running form than people who wear shoes...Running barefoot forces you to land on that nice, soft midsection of your foot instead of your heel...This is an example of your feet teaching your body how to run correctly."
Then, he goes on to say "rather than running barefoot, I run almost entirely in racing flats." Many barefoot runners have recently recommended racing flats to me as a way for me to learn barefoot form when running outside in upstate New York in the winter. I can see that in most of the pictures in the book he isn't wearing racing flats, but considering that he specifically says most of the time he doesn't wear thick-heeled running shoes, your review seems harsh and inaccurate.
Posted on Dec 30, 2009 7:49:19 AM PST
Grace Fernandez says:
thank you for the information.
In reply to an earlier post on Dec 30, 2009 8:08:51 AM PST
Yes, I did see this chapter in Chi Running. However running in racing flats is very different than running barefoot or in Vibram Five Fingers (the running shoes that I recommend). I had trained in racing flats for 2 years, before I completely transitioned to barefoot running and before Vibram Five Fingers were manufactured. Running in racing flats is an improvement from traditional training running shoes with the thick soles, however racing flats still encourage an unnatural running form. They imbalance the body foward and encourage heel strike. I have even tried the lightest and most flat racing flats, and my body was still encouraged to fall into an unnatural posture, albeit mild.
Try this simple exercise. Stand upright in your running shoes. Relax your body and feel the balance of your body. Traditional running shoes will cause your body to fall fowards due to the elevated heel. Even most racing flats will cause an unnatural imbalance, although it is less than traditional running shoes.
Then stand barefoot and relax your body. You should feel yourself being balanced more upright. If you do have postural imbalances - such as a tiled pelvis, poor spinal curve, imbalanced head/neck - then you may not be able to stand perfectly balanced with all of the muscles relaxed. However you will still get benefit from this exercise and be able to feel the effect of different shoes.
Test all of your running shoes and you can feel how they promote an unnatural imbalance in the body. This is due to the shoe industry's belief that shoes should put you into a forward-falling "running posture". However this only further imbalances the natural harmonious design of the body and leads to injury. Statistics have shown that running in shoes has caused an increased in running-related injuries. And personal testimonials have shown the transitioning to barefoot running have cured injuries and prevented more from occurring.
If you need shoes for winter running, you should look into using Vibram Five Fingers. They offer an insulated running shoe that works quite well. These are the most natural running shoes that I have found. And they last much longer than padded running shoes. Vibram Five Fingers can be used until the rubber wears through, unlike padded shoes that require replacement once the foam is compacted.
Throughout ChiRunning, Danny Dryer recommends landing on the "nice, soft midsection of your foot instead of your heel". However this not the natural design of the human body. When we view the images in the book and the video, we see that Danny Dryer lands in a flat-footed manner, where the toes and heel strike nearly at the same time. This is very different than the barefoot running method (and Pose Technique and Gordon Pirie technique) that teaches to not have the heel touch the ground at all.
When we look at the anatomy of the foot, we see that the soft midsection has no padding and is not designed to make contact with the ground. Instead, the muscles of the midsection function as an elastic spring that minimizes ground shock to the bones and provides a spring-like propulsion when walking and running.
The foot is naturally created with ground contact areas that are well padded and have bones for support and stability - the heel and the front pad, including the ball of the foot. When running, the front pad is intended to land first, using the soft muscle of the midsection as a spring, and the toes for balance and propulsion. If the heel strikes the ground while running, the shock of the impact can be felt in the knees and hips. If the heel does not strike the ground, then there is no shock.
Here is another exercise for you. Sit in a chair. Sit straight upright, not resting your back on the backrest. Pick up one foot and gently stomp it on the ground trying to have the "soft midsection" land first. Repeatedly stomp one foot and feel it. You'll feel that the heal and ball strike at the same time and it sends shock up to the knee. Now gently stomp your foot on the ground, with the the front pad striking first and the heel lifted off the ground, not striking the ground at all. Feel that the shock to the knee is gone, there is a natural spring to the movement, the stomp is much quieter and less stressful on the body, the stomp is lighter and feels more harmonious.
As a person starts to transition to barefoot running, the muscles of the calf and ankles are likely to be sore and feel overstretched. However this changes over time as the muscles adjust and the body re-learns how to correctly run. Be patient and allow for 3-6 months to adjust. Your running will be more peaceful, enjoyable, quiet, and efficient. You should notice better times and less fatigue.
I hope that my review has helped you. My review is intended to offer a critical analysis of the ChiRunning method. So it may be direct and confident, however there is no anger. Everything I say is supported with evidence and personal experience. I provide more resources that I feel are better guides to correct running technique. Blessings.
In reply to an earlier post on Mar 3, 2010 9:33:14 AM PST
Ryan Miller says:
His name is spelled Dreyer.
Posted on Mar 9, 2010 10:50:49 AM PST
J. Miller says:
Nice review, I picked up a pair of vibram five fingers yesterday and was looking for a good book on how to run properly. I came across the website for this book and it felt like it was only trying to sell me on the book. Glad to see a review from someone not sucked in by current fads.