The Benefits of Backward Walking and Running

Backward running and walking, or what I refer to as “retro movement” is a little like bell-bottom jeans in that it has been around for years and every once in awhile it re-enters the popularity spotlight. I just wish it would stay in the spotlight, as many trainers, coaches, and physical therapists use retro running for rehabbing injuries, improving athletic performance, and improving muscular balance. It is an excellent addition to any running routine. Among other benefits, running and walking backward can…

  • Help rehab injuries. Retro movement (running and walking) can be an effective strategy for rehabbing groin, knee joint, hamstring, shin, low back, and hip injuries, just to name a few. That is due in part to the differing demands when running backward versus forward, including a greater range of motion at the hip joint, a more erect posture, and greater activation of the calves and quadriceps muscles.
  • Improve performance. Running backward is much more demanding than running forward and requires more effort to move from one point to another. It is similar to running hills or speed intervals in that the greater cardiovascular demands result in improved stamina and aerobic capacity, which can translate to improved times in running forward. Many believe that one lap on a track backward is the equivalent of eight laps running forward! So, like speed work, a little goes a long way and it should be used as a condiment rather than a full entree when training.
  • Improve muscular balance. Retro-running is an effective means of strengthening the opposing muscle groups used in forward running, including your quads, calves, and shins, and ultimately balances your quad-to-hamstring strength ratio. Many experts recommend a 60/40 quad/hamstring strength ratio for balanced
    strength, performance and function of the knee joint. Forward running can over-develop the hamstring muscle group and increase the risk of knee joint injuries. In essence, retro-running is similar to hill
    running and strength training (squats and knee extensions) in that it develops a more balanced muscular system, which can reduce your risk from injuries due to muscle imbalance.
  • Spice up your running program. Like cayenne pepper, a little retro-running will go a long way in rejuvenating your running routine. Incorporating a few minutes of retro 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 all over again and the challenge keeps your mind fresh and motivated.

It is best to learn to run backward on a track or a predictable surface. You’ll be surprised at just how challenging it is, and starting slowly is key. I suggest starting by adding two to four 30-second intervals of backward running at the end of your easy runs. As you progress, you can lengthen the time of each interval, add more intervals, and even incorporate them into your runs just like speed work. The key is to keep it simple and use it as a spice. That way, you’ll reap the many benefits of retro running!

One Comment

  • Mieka Gerard says:

    I am getting out of a boot for a torn (not ruptured) fascia near the heel. When I get back to working out and training, would this be beneficial to me as I rehab and get back into walk/running? I find this article interesting.

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