The 100-Up Exercise and the Would-Be Runner

OR The Merits of Skepticism Over the 100-Up from the Running Elite

There’s been a lot of discussion (gnashing of teeth?) around the 100-up exercise over the past few days. Most of it is skepticism that there could possibly be “one drill to rule them all.” That, coupled with Chris McDougall’s unbridled enthusiasm and knack for telling a good yarn (Sounding a rallying cry to the Born to Run fan-base) … well, a few skeptics got riled up. God bless the Internet.

And a dose of skepticism is warranted whenever anything is held out as a panacea. That said, most of the naysayers haven’t actually had the time to practice the 100-Up exercise and see whether or not it works to improve their running. And by the way, getting at the merits behind George’s 100-Up is what this site is all about.

There’s one more thing I’d like to point out: nearest I can tell, most of the skeptics are already runners. I can only assume most of them already learned how to run properly, too.

Meanwhile, I am not a runner and haven’t dialed in my form to perfection. Sure I run from time to time and don’t heel-strike, but my form feels sloppy to me, unrefined, and prone to degradation. As a result I just don’t consider myself a runner. I see the 100-Up as a possible means to learn proper running form safely, efficiently, and in a manner that hacks at a problem that’s under-appreciated if recognized at all — rewiring my biomechanics through moving in a set, testable range in a controlled manner. It’s pretty hard to do that when you’re running down the street (Going full-monty likely helps in this regard, but is true barefoot running the most direct path to good running form? I don’t know.).

The whole whipped up, frenzied debate around the 100-Up as it is tossed about by established runners just drives me a little batty. Most human beings (in the first world anyway) probably haven’t run in months or even years. Most of us get our walking in at the grocery store or the mall. Stare at a screen lately while sitting slouched over a desk? Check. And finally, most of us are schlepping around in marshmallow soled and/or heel-elevated bricks called shoes (So stylish I’m sure!). Throw it all in a blender you get the modern man: a physiologically atrophied (muscles and tendons to say nothing of excess adiposity) individual hardwired to clunk around with zero notion of grace in movement.

Assume one of these individuals endeavors to run. While “couch to 5K” and other such programs can take the non-runner to running regularly, they don’t strike at the root problem — years of mis-use of the human body and habituated behaviors of injury-prone biomechanics. Worse, they may work to ingrain bad habits even further. Injury waits around the corner.

One irony in some of the criticsm around the 100-Up hype is that it’s being cast as a quick fix (Mind: George is pretty clear in his write-up of the 100-Up that correct form is difficult to maintain but paramount). Yet I can’t help but wonder: how many people lacing up their brand new Nikes and stretching their quads prior to their first run (or “jog”) in years are even remotely aware that they don’t have a clue how to run? That they should even Google proper running form or practice a few running drills before bombing (bouncing?) down the street … most probably don’t think about running drills for a second! We live in the age of the quick fix and a new pair of shoes and a decision to “go for a run” and “lose a couple pounds” is the quick fix du jour. Performing a century-old drill to learn form? No thanks, you can keep your drills while I take to the streets. Don’t you know? Just do it!

People think they know how to run and when it hurts, they assume it’s because they’re out of shape. When this cascades into injury or just giving up on running altogether (been there!), it’s a wonder anyone is running at all. It’s the non-runners who are the silent majority in these nuanced debates among the running elite.

So I hope the 100-Up is an efficient path towards learning how to run. I think it’s worth trying to find that efficient path because I don’t know about you, but my life is too busy. Seems W.G. George had the same problem back in the 1870s. The more things change, right?

I wonder if more of us started out not with a pair of new shoes and a grand plan to run a 5K/half-marathon/marathon but with learning something about proper running form, some intentional biomechanical re-wiring (e.g. the 100-Up exercise), and a bit of back-to-the-basics foot rehabilitation (barefoot locomotion!), maybe the end result would be more healthy and happy runners.

3 Replies to “The 100-Up Exercise and the Would-Be Runner”

  1. Great post! I’m a runner, but I haven’t been getting out as much as I’d like. So far, this week, the “100-Up” has gotten me to add some exercise while at work. If that’s all it does, then it definitely has merit. It’s too early yet to see if it will improve my running. Time will tell. Cheers!

  2. Me: 70 y o, former 400m collegiate runner. Returned to fairly serious jogging (7:30 mile pace) 10 yrs ago. Slowly eased away from running 5 yrs ago. Steady and serious weight program for 10 yrs.

    Now wish to lose weight (6’2″, 230#). Been “100-upping” for a month. Began in shoes; could manage only 60-up at first. Slowly improved to where I now do – barefoot – several sets of “150-up” a day (in addition to my regular gym workouts, mostly free weights, several times a week). Recently adapted Dr Bob Arnot’s “Revolutionary” diet (google it for details).

    Currently, 217#. “150-up” feels great, on balls of (bare) feet. At first I was unsteady and shifting my weight erratically, unable to hit the marks 8 inches apart regularly (now, I can). Feel I could do 200- or even 400-up. Work out on my balcony as time permits.

    Additionally, I learned to ride a unicycle 25 yrs ago. Almost no unicycling in last 10 yrs tho. Bought a 36″ Coker recently. Feel there are some strong similarities between 100-up and unicycling, esp shifting weight from foot to foot.

    My question is: now what? Do I try to go out and pound the pavement outside? Or, can 100-up’s put me in good running shape? I’d appreciate your feedback if you have any!

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