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7 Benefits of Walking Backward

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During my stint as a middle school distance coach for track and field athletes, I would frequently find myself walking (or running) backward. Attempting to make sure that all athletes were engaging with the team, looping back, turning around, and walking in reverse sometimes just happened. 

I never thought much of it until one day; I was doing a guided treadmill workout using an app on my phone, and, during the warm-up, the coach had me walking backward. But, of course, I did not see that coming. 

This portion of the warm-up got me wondering if there were specific benefits to walking backward. I was certainly surprised by what I found.

What Are The Benefits Of Walking Backward?

There are some great benefits to walking backward:

1. Improved Balance: Since your body is not accustomed to walking backward, it uses your muscles in different ways. This can lead to better balance. 

2. Better Stability: Another benefit to using those muscles differently is that you build stability. 

3. Burn More Calories: Believe it or not, the exercise energy expended during a backward walk is higher than for the same individual moving forward. 

4. Mental Benefits: Since it keeps your mind guessing and your brain engaged, walking backward can have mental benefits. In addition, anytime you mix up your workout, you can experience improved sleep cycles and a heightened sense of alertness. 

5. Cardiovascular Health: Walking in reverse can elevate your heart rate, resulting in improved cardiovascular health. 

6. Increased Aerobic Capacity: This improvement is a natural result of cardiovascular engagement. 

7. Knee Health: Less impact on your knees. 

What Muscles Do You Use Walking Backward?

The benefits of walking backward include the engagement of certain muscles and muscle groups. Working the posterior chain, this movement strengthens the glutes, hamstrings, and calf muscles. 

how to walk backward
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Walking backward also works your quads. Your quad activates every time the person straightens the knee to go from toe to heel. 

Another benefit from the toe to heel motion that happens when you walk backward is strengthening your shins. 

Is Walking Backward Good For Your Glutes?

Immediately when you step backward to make that toe to heel motion, it results in glute engagement.

With the greater engagement of the posterior chain, your glutes will be positively impacted. 

Does Walking Backward Build Muscle?

Any time you are exercising, you are building muscle. Maybe you are not bulking up, but strengthening is important too.

Remember that you are using your body in entirely different motions and manner than when you walk forwards. 

Ways To Implement Reverse Walking Into Your Workout

Most exercise enthusiasts encourage you to start out on a treadmill. The benefits of walking backward on a treadmill are many.

  • First, you have handrails to help you maintain stability.

    walking-backward on a treadmill
    medicalfitnesspros.com
  • Second, you do not need to worry about accidentally getting tripped up on something; the only thing behind you is the treadmill.
  • Lastly, you can easily control the speed

You should start out super slow if you use the treadmill to walk backward. Even as slowly as .5 or 1.0 of speed may seem challenging at first. 

Some people prefer to walk outside and take their backward walking out into the sunshine. I would encourage you to be certain you know exactly where you are and that there are no potential dangers if you choose to do this outside.

An unoccupied track might be an option. Another thought would be a wide, flat sidewalk

Remember to start out slowly and carefully, always aware of your surroundings. Falling would not be something you want to do. 

What Is The Benefit Of Walking Backward On A Treadmill?

Walking backward on a treadmill is particularly favored as a safer option than doing it outside. Physical therapists use treadmills for backward walking during the rehabilitation of certain body parts. 

Physical benefits include working different muscles, building stability, improving balance, and better strength. You also will find cardiovascular benefits result from these workouts.

You can also use the incline feature on the treadmill to walk both backward and uphill. What a workout that would turn out to be. 

Can You Run Backward?

A far less natural motion than forward running, backward running is challenging. However, research suggests that backward running will give improved cardiovascular benefits. 

Ask yourself what the common reasons why most people run are. One reason is to burn calories. Backward running burns more calories than regular running.

Other runners cite muscle toning as a popular reason to run. Guess what? Running backward tones muscles and does also tone things differently (in a good way). 

Running can result in certain injuries. Some injuries are less bothered by backward running than by forward running. 

Downsides To Reverse Running/Walking

The most obvious is that it is darned difficult to do. Since you can’t see where you are going, you are in danger of possibly falling. This is obviously not a situation you want to find yourself in. 

You also have to be aware that it is cardiovascularly more challenging and, for some, this is a downside. 

Honestly, there are not really many drawbacks to backward running or walking. You should give it a whirl. 

If Walking Backward For The First Time…

…strongly consider doing it on a treadmill. That way, you can easily control the speed and have the handrails to grab onto if you need to. 

You could also try walking outside on the track with a friend for people who really enjoy social workouts. If you are doing this with a friend, make sure you don’t lose focus of where your feet are landing. 

I highly recommend you get a pair of walking shoes, whether you are walking forward or backward. Having sport and/or activity-specific shoes puts you in the best possible position for overall body health. 

Sources

  1. Wendy Bumgardner, The Benefits of Walking Backward , Healthy Living Website
  2. Stephen Mazurkiewicz, 5 Unique Benefits of Running Backwards, Running Site

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