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Try the 100-up drill to finesse running form, fast

The 100-up exercise is a time-tested training tool you can do anywhere

high knees

The seemingly endless array of running shoes, devices and training techniques available can make running seem complicated and confusing. Get back to the basics with one simple drill you can do anytime, anywhere, and become a smooth, efficient running machine without any gadgetry. The 100-up exercise is a tried-and-tested tool runners can use both to build strength and to reinforce a rock-solid running foundation.

Christopher McDougall and Eric Orton, co-authors of Born to Run 2: The Ultimate Training Guide, swear by the 100-up drill: “We need to revive our legs by reawakening our joints and getting those mechanics grooving again,” they write. One hundred of anything may seem daunting–it’s OK to begin with 20 or 30 up, too. Here’s how (and why) to get started.

woman doing high knee drill outside

Why 100-up?

The 100-up drill is a foundational running exercise created by former world record holder Walter George in the late 1800s. George, a teenager at the time, needed a quick, simple exercise he could practise behind the pharmacy counter, where he worked long hours. After some experimenting, George developed a drill he called the 100-up, “because that’s exactly what it was: picking each foot up 100 times,” McDougall and Orton explain.

George had little spare time to train, and spent a year doing mostly 100-ups for exercise. When he finally got to race, the athlete had both crazy leg speed and astounding fitness. In 1886, the runner ran a 4:12 mile, setting a world record that would stand for more than 30 years. McDougall and Orton say the exercise is perfect for maintaining an active muscle pattern, building foot and leg strength and fending off injuries.

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The drill

To start, mark two lines on the ground, shoulder-width apart, barefoot if possible.

Place one foot on each line.

With your back straight, raise your right knee as high as your hip while driving your left arm forward.

Drop your right foot back on its mark, and raise your left knee to waist height, while driving your right arm forward.

“Basically, marching in place,” McDougall and Orton say. Pay attention to form–the authors suggest stopping (even if you’re short of 100) as soon as you notice your feet have strayed from the marks or you’re struggling to lift your knee high enough.

Make it harder

The simplicity of this drill is deceiving, and you may be surprised at how long it takes you to master moving in place (with control) from leg to leg. Once you can do the 100-up drill slowly, the authors suggest shifting from marching to running in place. You can even watch TV while doing 100-ups, McDougall says, just be mindful of the rules: “You need to bring your knees up to your waist with each stride and stay on your floor marks.”

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