You’ve spent your life walking and running forward, but the benefits of running backwards are hard to ignore. In fact, it might be one of the best things for improving your performance and health that you’re not doing.
I learned about the benefits of running backwards from an old football coach. I once had shin splints and no matter what I did, I could not cure them. One day while at the track, I was talking about how painful they were and how nothing I did was working. The football coach was walking by and he piped in, “You need to add Backwards Running. That’s what we always did.”
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So, that day I went to the track and walked a quarter of each lap backwards. And when I walked to my car, I tried to take 15 steps backwards for every 100 forward. And when I went up and down stairs, I tried to take one way backwards.
And IT WORKED!
Within three days, my shin splints were no longer so painful that I couldn’t walk. Within a week, they were completely gone, with no residual pain. I continue to use backwards training drills with my athletic teams as part of preseason drills to prevent shin splits and improve their performance.
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Here are some of the other benefits of backwards running:
- Backwards walking and backwards running eliminate the eccentric component of training on the knee joint. The eccentric, or lengthening component (lowering phase of going down hills or stairs) is usually what causes the most problems with knees. By removing that component from your training, you allow your body to continue to train while letting it heal from overuse or injury.
- Research suggests you may get greater cardiovascular benefits in a shorter period of time.
- Backwards walking and backwards running give you a chance to work out the opposing muscles in your legs and calves, and a chance to give your hamstrings and glutes a break, since they do most of the work during walking and running.
- Backwards walking is a physical activity, but it’s also a “neurobic” activity, meaning it requires brain activity that may help you stay mentally sharp.
- Backwards training improvements transfer well to on-field performance. It builds muscle, improves sports performance, promotes balance and more. Backwards running also helps with quick change of direction skills.
- Improves endurance and aerobic capacity more rapidly. Forcing your body to adapt to new and unfamiliar demands promotes quick improvements.
Backwards Walking/Running Workouts
- Start in an athletic stance.
- Step back with a stride length equal to your forward stride.
- Land softly as you push from toe to heel, articulating the ankle joint.
Whether on the the treadmill or the ground, initially finding your rhythm is the key to adding this to your daily routine. You don’t have to run a marathon backwards. Just do enough to loosen your back. In the beginning, try 5-10 minutes daily. Remember, your other muscles have to catch up to the new experience. Work your way up to walking backwards up a gently inclined slope or on a slightly ramped treadmill. Once you’re comfortable, add backwards running.
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Here are a few workout options:
- For every 100 steps you take forward, take 15 backwards.
- During warm-up runs, run 1/4 of the loop backwards.
- A more complex variation of this exercise concept combines forward and backward walking with static balance.
- Walk/run forward five steps
- Balance and hold 2 seconds on the support leg as the swing leg is reversed
- Walk/run backwards four steps
- Balance and hold 3 seconds on the support leg as the swing leg is reversed