The four main components of the Chi Running form are posture, lean, heel lift and arm swing. This blog entry discusses heel lift.
In Chi Running your legs and feet are only used to support your aligned posture when you run. The muscles in your legs and feet are not required to propel you down the road since you are creating the forward pull of gravity with your aligned posture and lean to achieve this propulsion.
Remember the exercise for the “Intro Blog”?
1. Stand up straight with good posture and completely relax all the muscles in your legs, including everything from the knees down and especially the ankles.
2. Now lean forward from your ankles ever so slightly and your body will start to fall forward.
3. If you continue to lean far enough you will eventually pick up one of your feet and place it on the ground a foot or two forward to keep you from falling on your face.
Note how you simply picked that foot up and put it down to support your body. You didn’t use any muscle in the legs or feet to move your body forward. What if you repeated the exercise above and instead of putting that first foot down and coming to a halt, you just put it down momentarily and started the forward fall again this time using your other foot for momentary support. If you continue from one foot to the other you are moving forward in a controlled fall using gravity, not the muscles in your legs and feet.
You want your feet to create the least amount of contact with the ground. The longer the feet are in contact with the ground the more of a “rooted” connection you make with the ground and the less gravity is able to pull you forward.
In ChiRunning you pick up your feet by first peeling your foot off the ground starting with the heel then ending with the toes. You then you lift your heel only high enough to clear the height of the opposite ankle. Each heel moves in a circular fashion over the opposite ankle with the same movement as if you were pedaling a bicycle with toes clips. This circular movement is directly below or slightly behind your hips since you are leaning. The whole time you are lifting your heels your lower legs, ankles and feet are completely limp and relaxed. If they are completely relaxed then your toes will naturally stay down when you lift your heel. This avoids dorsiflexing (toes up higher than heel) and heel striking.
Chi Running uses a mid-foot strike rather than forefoot strike or heel strike. A forefoot strike engages the ball of the foot and subsequently the calf muscle which we are trying to avoid. Try standing up on the balls of your feet and you’ll feel the calf muscle working. A heel strike is not energy efficient when you are trying to avoid muscle usage as every time your heel contacts the ground in front of you it is a momentary braking action.