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The Chi of Running 

Running is one of the most beneficial exercises we can engage in to stay fit. Unfortunately, it can also be one of the most hazardous. Of the approximately 24 million Americans who are into running, about 65 percent ­ roughly 15 million ­ will sustain some type of running-related injury during the course of an average year.

However, shin splints, painful muscle cramps and other types of injuries don't have to be the norm in running. I recently previewed a book that will be coming out in April that emphasizes a unique approach to injury-free running. I was very impressed by what I read.

The author of the book, Chi Running, is longtime running coach and ultra-marathon runner Danny Dreyer. What Dreyer has done is take some of the key points from the study of Tai Chi and applied them to running. Tai Chi has its origins in the ancient Chinese study of animal movements. According to the Chinese, "chi" is the energy force that animates all things. Tai Chi is a system of movements and exercises that direct this energy to all parts of the body through mental focus and relaxation. It is considered "The Mother of Martial Arts" and dates back more than 2,500 years.

Over the years, "power running" has become the standard for most runners -- professionals and amateurs alike. The predominant focus of power running has been to develop leg strength and leg speed in order to run faster and farther. In essence, it requires regular physical strength training exercises to develop the body into its peak running form. The high percentage of runners who injure themselves each year, however, should be "a wake-up call that something in how we run is out of line with the laws of nature," Dreyer says.

One of the things Tai Chi teaches us is to direct our bodily movements along our spines. Just as the strength of a tree lies in its trunk instead of its leaves or branches, so the spine -- a key component of the human trunk -- is the source of our strength, according to Dreyer. Applying that principle to his running technique, Dreyer began moving his body from the core (an area in the lower body, just in front of the spine) and relaxing his arms, legs, shoulders and hips, letting them "be pulled along for the ride" instead of putting all the body's weight and stress on them.

Dreyer worked with a group of scientists who confirmed that his teaching technique is backed by the laws of physics. "When your body is out of sync with these laws it becomes less efficient, requires more fuel, experiences greater fatigue and is more susceptible to injury," he notes. Chi running emphasizes leaning forward more than you do with power running and using the power of gravity to propel you forward.

He also advocates bending your elbows and knees while running to allow these appendages to act as pendulums that sustain forward momentum more efficiently. In short, chi running is a much more relaxed, low-impact style of running that, if applied correctly, could help prevent some of the most common types of injuries sustained by runners.

The book goes on to give many good running, training and exercising tips that can be performed easily, in your own home, without the use of any special equipment. The author also discusses the importance of a healthy diet, a regular exercise regimen and the correct type of running shoes. There are also some priceless "dos" and "don'ts" to keep in mind while running in competitive racing.

Running is a form of exercise that we should enjoy on a regular basis, and we should reap the benefits of fitness while reducing our chances of injury. Make sure you get the most out of your running program.

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