Improve Your Running Leg Swing with Chi Running

In my early stages of transitioning from heel striking to forefoot striking, there weren’t many resources to learn from. Chi Running however, provided me with terrific advice on how to improve my leg swing and foot movements to make forefoot running feel more relaxing and effortless.

Chi Running

How to Improve Your Leg Swing in Forefoot Running

Be Passive, Not Aggressive with Your Legs

The term Chi is synonymous with a relaxed state of mind, which is how you should be when you are running –be relaxed, don’t force the movements. Many running injuries, such as shin splints, Achilles tendonosis and metatarsal stress fractures, occur because the feet are over-used with the ground.

  • Most of the damage in running occurs when the feet forcefully push the body into flight. This pushing leads to sore calves, soleus strain and Achilles tear.

Chi Running reveals a great tip to allow your feet to act passively with the ground:

  • According to Chi Running, our feet are not designed for aggressive propulsion, therefore never push yourself forward too hard with your feet during running — the feet are only needed to support the body between strides.
  • To avoid using your feet for propulsion, Chi Running recommends to think of peeling your heel off the ground to lift the foot -this helps relax the feet.

Why Peeling is Better than Pushing

The method of peeling the foot from the ground protects the feet against metatarsal strain and high plantar pressures. In addition, Chi Running also advises runners to lean forward, which removes workload from the feet.

  • According to Chi Running, the body (i.e. center mass) should lean slightly forward from the ankles, meanwhile allow the foot to float up off the ground, thereby relying less on the feet and legs for propulsion.

Now lets put Chi Running’s peeling and leaning advice into practice by looking at the forefoot running style of Tirunesh Dibaba:

Notice how Dibaba passively, not aggressively pushes herself forward with her feet. If she was pushing too much, then she would have more bounce to her stride and her legs would be more strained than they are. Instead, she completely relaxes her legs, making them limp just as  Chi Running recommends.

As for her upper body position, Dibaba positions her torso not behind her foot strike position, but close to or in front of her foot strike position. This is how your forward lean should look –a VERY subtle upper body forward tilt. Chi Running also puts it another way: a perpetual fall forward by pushing your center of mass forward is what’s pulling you forward. This position of the center of mass encourages the urge to peel the foot, not push with the foot.

More From Run Forefoot:

Running with Knee Pain – Find out what you need to do to keep your knees healthy when you run.

Barefoot and the Spinal Cord – Learn how running barefoot stimulates the spinal cord, resulting in better spinal cord function and movement coordination.

Pre-Run Boost – Top pre-run energy tablets on the market.

Recommended Forefoot Running Shoe – Check out my review on the Vivobarefoot EVO Pure, a barefoot like shoe that’s perfect for road racing.

Learn Barefoot Running – Great advice on how to learn barefoot running with greater ease.

Why Run Forefoot – An overview as to why I feel all runners would benefit from forefoot running rather than heel strike running.

Forefoot Running Shoes Store Locator – Here you will find the best online places to buy barefoot inspired footwear that will help you nail your forefoot running technique.

Stop Landing on Your Heels – Understand how landing on your heels while you run is not only ineffective for performance, but increases your risk of serious and chronic injuries.


Dreyer, D. (2012) Chi Marathon. New York, NY: First Touchdown.

Bretta Riches

"I believe the forefoot strike is the engine of endurance running..."

BSc Neurobiology; MSc Biomechanics candidate, ultra minimalist runner & founder of RunForefoot. I was a heel striker, always injured. I was inspired by the great Tirunesh Dibaba to try forefoot running. Now, I'm injury free. This is why I launched Run Forefoot, to advocate the health & performance benefits of forefoot running and to raise awareness on the dangers of heel striking, because the world needs to know.
Bretta Riches

P.S. Don't forget to check out the Run Forefoot Facebook Page, it's a terrific place to ask questions about forefoot running, barefoot running and injury. I'm always happy to help!

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