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Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The 100-Up Challenge? How about the 100-Squat Challenge?

I'm not telling you folks to get a life.  I just thought this picture was funny.  But as for the 100-Up, the only 100-Up you'll ever see me going after is the one in Super Mario Bros.  I need that many lives just to make it through the first level.  Unfortunately, I lost all my video game skills after I turned 7.

Citizens, after Chris McDougall came out with his ultra-popular article "The Once and Future Way to Run", I lamented that we'd probably see a rush towards things like the 100-Up as the latest and greatest gimmick to achieve injury-free running (you can read my rant here).  Over the last week, that's been true to some extent.  Videos demonstrating the 100-Up are all over youtube and various social media.  Many of my friends have weighed in on the possible benefits of the 100-Up (links to posts by Angie, Josh, and Trisha).  My friend Justin Owings of the site birthdayshoes.com has even created a website called The Hundred-Up Challenge.

Mostly these posts have a healthy degree of skepticism about the potential benefits of the 100-Up on running form and athletic performance.  I think that skepticism is good.  Chris McDougall is an incredibly engaging writer.  He could persuasively argue that eating shit is the way to cure cancer, and people would probably start doing it.  Someone would probably even try to register eatingshit dot com (and also probably find that it was already registered to a group of German fetish fans).  I'm glad to see that people aren't blindly running to the 100-Up the way many ran to barefoot running when Born to Run was published.

AFTER POST EDIT: Nothing but love for my bro McDougall folks.  His article is top-notch and well researched.  I love the way his articles always inspire people to do great things.  He is one of the people responsible for who I am today.  I can't wait to see what he's up to.  I'm sure it's going to be huge. 

Of course I can't leave a juicy subject like this one untouched.  Especially when all of my friends are coming out with their opinions.  As I do with every subject my friends blog about, I'm going to take their ideas into consideration, pat them on the back for their good dialogue, then talk about something completely different.  Here's what I think about doing something like an 100-Up challenge: I think it will help your barefoot running form.  I also think that there is a much more effective method.

Don't get me wrong.  I think the 100-Up is a good exercise.  In fact, there are a couple of things that the 100-Up exercise does well.  As Josh points out, it gets you in the habit of landing with the ball of your foot under your center of gravity, and it teaches you how to land softly.  Good and good.  I would add that it also teaches you how to lift your feet by engaging your leg muscles.  That's a critical skill to prevent the dreaded "push off" and the resulting foot blisters. 

That being said, anybody can do that stuff while standing still.  Doing it while moving forward is an entirely different matter.  Landing with your foot under your center of gravity is best learned by practicing a shorter cadence.  And a soft landing is something that just happens naturally as you run barefoot more often.  In fact, I always caution people not to focus on their landing because it tends to tense you up and lead to problems.  Not to mention that the 100-Up can be done without touching your heel to the ground, which may encourage even more problems.

I also think that much of what the 100-Up could teach you becomes automatic once you learn an even more important running skill: bending your knees.  When the best barefooters run, you'll usually notice on thing: they all look like their about to sit down.  They keep their backs straight, hinge slightly with their hips, and lead with their waist (or their heads if they're more of a POSE-style runner).  This gives them good knee bend, and naturally aligns their feet below their center of gravity. 

A proper knee bend is your built in shock absorber, so your landings become feather soft.  You really can't push off since your legs can't travel that far behind you.  And your foot more naturally lands below your center of gravity.  You won't find many barefoot running gurus who don't think that bending your knees is the most critical aspect of good form.  In fact, Ken Bob Saxton's book on barefoot running was a 200-page way of saying "bend your knees". 

And if these runners were to continue that knee bend to its logical conclusion, they would have a squat.  I'm a big fan of the squat as a way to learn barefoot running.  In fact, in his book "Proprioception: Making Sense of Barefoot Running", Lee Saxby recommends that people do barefoot squats to develop the proprioception necessary to properly barefoot run.  He recommends that people first walk barefoot, then jump, then squat, and then run.  The reason is simple.  That essentially breaks the barefoot foot strike into it's component parts.  The best way to learn a complex movement is to break it into more basic ones we already know how to do.

Why learn how to squat properly while barefoot?  It's not only because squats teach you how to bend your knees.  Barefoot squats also show your feet what it feels like to rock from your midfoot to your heel.  At the start of your squat, your weight is over your center of mass.  As you hinge backwards to sit down, it should shift onto your heels.  This same shift occurs during each footstrike as you run.  Not to mention...they teach you great balance and posture.

The squat is also hands down a better exercise for muscle development than the 100-Up.  Chris McDougall touts the 100-Up as an exercise that will vastly improve your running performance.  True, all runners could benefit from some strength training.  And the 100-Up certainly engages all of the muscles recruited while running: hamstring, quad, glute, hip flexor, and maybe a little core. 

But in doing an 100-Up, you're only lifting the weight of your leg.  And you're primarily recruiting your quad; a muscle that is used mostly for stabilization during running.  The squat on the other hand is a total-body exercise that involves your entire body weight.  It is the single most effective strength training exercise on the planet.  It's pretty simple really; recruiting more muscles and moving more weight = more effective workout.  The best thing I ever did for my running performance is to get my back squat numbers up.

So you want to improve your running form and performance with a drill?  May I propose the 100-Squat Challenge!  Do as many barefoot squats as you can each day until you can reach 100.  Want a more formal program.  Here ya go!  For greater effect on your proprioception, do the squats on a rough surface.  I guarantee you'll be able to smoke anyone who is only doing 100 leg lifts.  And you'll probably have better form too. 

If you are going to take this challenge, please learn good squat form.  Bad squatting form is a ticket straight to knee injury.  There are whole websites dedicated to the art of the squat.  Here's where I learned

Give it a try!  Cheers citizens!


  1. Have a look at: http://www.twohundredsquats.com/
    Quite a nice program to work up to 200.

  2. Holy crap, man! You hit the nail on the head with that one! Which is probably why my programs include a lot of squats. My tight hip flexors limit my lifting range of my leg. Along with lots of mobility warmups, the squat warmups before running help open my hip joints and give me better range of motion when running. And I totally agree that the squat engages more muscles and on a more significant level than just the 100 up. Right on! I'll take up the challenge!

  3. Awesome post Christian and your comparison of the 100-Up to squats is great. I do heavy squats at least once a week (And I'm no runner!), and dig the similarities here.

    It seems like the 100-Up is primarily a way to retrain your brain and hardwire certain movements (neuroplastically). I think that's the unrealized, little discussed benefit here, but like all of us, I'm just speculating.

    That said, and important difference between the 100-Up and squats is that the 100-Up is about balancing on one leg and being precise in a pattern of movement -- alternating leg lifts. While squats require balance, it's not quite the same as standing on one-leg.

    Perhaps single leg squats (pistols) are the supreme solution. Those Russians were on to something with their crazy alternating one-legged squat dance (whatever that thing is called).

  4. Good point about the balancing aspect of the 100 Up. But 100 pistols sounds horrible! I've only done that once, and I couldn't walk right for a week!

  5. That is so weak. I'm disappointed. You should try these:


    Kidding of course. Pistols are hard as crap.

  6. I just injured myself watching that video.

  7. As someone who cannot do a barefoot squat (and won't try barefooting again until I can), this would be a huge challenge! I like it.

  8. Squats. Jump rope. Repeat.

  9. I like pistols for combining strength with balance but I think that the 100-up is good for a different variety of balance/precision training. I feel like variety and moderation is the best way to go. There is no "silver bullet".

  10. I accept your challenge too, good sir! I'll spread your message far and wide. Soon all Americans will have bulging legs and excellent buttocks. I also want to say I just did a pistol in my mind and gave myself a seizure. Pistol challenge not accepted.

  11. At the height of my squat obsession I could do 350 consecutively. I am sure I could do it again with a couple weeks to work up to it. Now add a weighted bar for posture and it's golden!

  12. Great post! A nice variation on the squat is to kick out one leg to the side, then the other, then squat. It should be done rhythmically, to a four-beat count, with the squat getting the 3rd and 4th beats. We used to do this in karate. Great for balance, explosiveness, and rhythm. In fact, I should start doing them again! Thanks for reminding me about the squat.

  13. Pistols... maybe I can't do the sets of 20 to 25 my first college soccer coach had us do a decade ago, but really, they are not that difficult. Maybe instead of the 100 Up challenge (I've been using a modified version of the 200 squats as cross-training for about a month) I should do a pistol challenge.

    Gracia y paz,


  14. Challenge accepted on the squats. The pistols not for this guy, I'm Scottish and that could just end up ugly.

  15. I think the squats are a good idea. Then one could advance to single leg pistol squats and then of course, the holy grail... the legendary "no leg squats"... :)

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