Run Like George: A 100+ year-old exercise to improve your running form in 100 reps

This article was originally published in The Raider Patch: Magazine of the U.S. Marine Raider Association

In 1874, Walter George was a 16-year-old boy working as a chemist’s apprentice in

England. George loved to run, but his demanding job—working 14-hour days plus evening study—left little time to train. One day, George devised a technique so that he could train during his lunch breaks in the back room of the chemist’s shop. 

George would go on to become a seven-time British running champion and a twelve-time world record holder in distances from 1000 yards to 10 miles. His best mile finish came in at 4 minutes, 12 seconds. From those early training sessions in the back of the chemist’s shop, George had gone from an inexperienced athlete to one of the premier runners of his time.

What can we learn from George? George discovered that little habits applied to your running form practiced consistently, can make big things happen.

Good running form is efficient and has a low energy cost to the body.

  • Weight over the middle foot at strike
  • Slight forward lean posture
  • Short time in contact with the ground
  • High steps per minute rate (e.g., ~180)
  • Weight behind the foot at strike
  • No lean or backward lean posture
  • Long time in contact with the ground
  • Low steps per minute rate (e.g., <170) 

The benefits of good running form are two-fold: 

  1. Improved performance – better running economy decreases the amount of fuel (oxygen) needed
  2. Reduced injuries – optimal alignment decreases peak impact forces throughout the lower body.

So, what was that technique that George discovered? He called it the 100-Up Exercise. Practiced by Walter George and popularized by runner and author Christopher McDougall, the “100-Up” is a simple drill that involves marching or lightly hopping in place. It corrects a common problem amongst injured or under-performing runners: the inability to keep their trunk stacked on top of their pelvis while balancing on one leg, then switch to the opposite side. Do you know why that’s a problem? Because that’s what running is all about!

The value of the exercise comes from the pattern and the practice; alternating arm and leg action works on coordination and core stability, while endurance is gained from doing one hundred reps (50 on each leg). Part one of this practice, originally called the “minor” exercise, is a marching drill that can be used as a test and a training drill. The 100-Up March prepares the leg muscles for the forces of the 100-Up Exercise. It also helps give you an idea of your balance and coordination between your body’s right and left sides. After you’ve mastered the 100-Up March (100 reps!), you’re now ready for the standard 100-Up Exercise.

Setup: Stand with a tall spine, shoulders relaxed, elbows bent, and feet hip-width apart.

Action: Drive your left knee up to hip height while driving your right elbow back in an arm swing fashion. Lower your left leg back to the starting position, placing your foot directly underneath the hip. Repeat on the other side, alternating left and right for reps (total of 100). 

How It Feels: A swift weight change from one leg to the other, but without bouncing. 

Tip: Stay in the same place! If you’re making more than one set of footprints in any direction, place a strip of tape on the ground between your feet to help keep you centered. 

Setup: Stand with a tall spine, shoulders relaxed, elbows bent, and feet hip-width apart.

Action: Begin as you would for the March by driving your left knee up to hip height while driving your right elbow back in an arm swing. This time, lift your right foot and knee before the left foot touchdown. You’ll lift one foot while the other returns to the ground. Alternate legs for 100 reps. 

How It Feels: It’s like running in place but with higher knees. (High knees here work on posture and alignment but aren’t necessary or even desirable during actual steady-state running.) 

Tip: Take note of how your foot touches the ground. If you are landing on your foot’s inside or outside edge, work to level out your footstrike. Slow down switching legs until you have an even footstrike. 

Old injuries, changes in fitness levels, and lifestyle factors can lead to imbalances in body movement. By practicing the 100-Up Exercise, you’ll gain a sense of how each half of your body contributes to your running form. 

Start with 50 total reps, taking breaks when your technique, posture, or balance degrades. 

Try it barefoot to further improve your balance and load management.

Do it before runs to polish your technique and as a reset break in the middle of a workout if your technique starts to fade.

However you practice, hit your 100 reps, and see how your running form improves!

Questions or comments about foot pain or injuries? Send us a message

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