Should I Run Backwards?

If the idea seems a little strange to you, rest assured it’s not a new one. In fact, it may be a great way to add some fun into your training especially since the benefits of running backwards are many!

Running backwards! Yes, it seems rather incredulous. But it has been used in training and as a part of general fitness in Japan and Europe for quite some time now. Many sports training specifically include backwards walking or running to engage specific muscles and to develop neuromuscular control. Backwards running, also known as retro running or reverse running does have some research to back it up. Some studies have shown it to be beneficial as a part of rehab or return to sports after an injury. Backwards walking and running gives you a chance to work out the opposing muscles in your legs and calves. Muscle firing patterns are very different in backwards vs forwards running, creating more of a soft landing which can be useful to reduce joint loads, especially in the knees. Since we have spent all our lives walking and running forwards, it might be time to add in a bit of backwards running into your fitness program.

Why exactly should one take up backwards running? Who is this for? Well, let’s look at the possible benefits of backwards running – other than quickly becoming the center of attention!

  • Your current fitness routine feels monotonous: Incorporating a few minutes of backwards running into your normal running routine can spice up your runs, add a little variety and burn more calories too. It’s like learning to run like a kid again and the challenge keeps your mind fresh and motivated.
  • Suffering from knee pain or shin splints: Backwards running has shown to substantially reduce the onset of shin splints and is also used as a part of physiotherapy treatment for knee pain and shin splints.
  • You want to speed things up: Research suggests that you may get greater cardiovascular benefits in a shorter period of time with backwards running as opposed to regular running. Taking 100 steps backwards is the same as taking a 1000 steps forward; it burns a fifth more calories as well. It also improves endurance and aerobic capacity more rapidly. It forces your body to adapt to new and unfamiliar demands hence promoting quick improvements.
  • You want to keep your mind fit along with your body: Backwards running is a physical activity but mostly it is a “neurobic” activity- it requires brain activity that helps with staying mentally sharp. Also since you can’t see what’s in front of you, you are forced to use your other senses to help navigate. This helps your sense of hearing and peripheral vision not to mention just becoming more alert in general.
  • You want to improve your running posture: Often runners slouch, drop their head or lean too far forward, especially when they get tired. This can lead to back pain. Adding backwards running into your routine helps work on the posture as well as works on your core and abdominal muscles.
  •  You want to improve your sports performance: Backwards running promotes balance, quick change of direction skills, builds muscle, hence improving on-field performance.

Get into backwards running slowly and progressively. Begin with backwards walking progressing to slow running; start in a non-crowded area to avoid trips and falls; begin with 5 to 10 minutes at the end of your run or workout and gradually increase. You could add backwards running as a part of your warm-up or for every 100 steps you take forward, take 15 steps backwards. Begin on a treadmill and gradually move to your regular running terrain.

Whatever your reason to start running backwards, one thing is for sure- it will definitely make your fitness routine more fun. So run free, run powerful, and run fearlessly!


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