Your workout not working for you? Maybe you’re just running in the wrong direction. Introducing moving backwards. A regular for pro athletes (think of your fave football, tennis and soccer stars; now think of their bods), this cardio-boosting workout is known for its ability to torch calories while improving balance and posture. When you alter the way your muscles fire, it switches the workload to different muscle groups and the payoff is big: balanced muscle strength throughout your body plus reduced risk of injury.
How to take the first (backwards) step
It’s one thing to tout the idea’s benefits and another to put it into practice. In some ways, it’s kind of like learning to walk all over again, so start in an area with level ground and minimal obstacles, maybe doing laps around a football field or the outside lane of a track. Or hit the gym. “The treadmill is the perfect place to go backwards, because you can use the rails for safety,” says Barry Bates, professor emeritus at the University of Oregon Department of Exercise and Movement Science. “Ideally you don’t want to be turning around all the time. You want to be comfortable with where you’re going.” You can also try running or walking backwards with a buddy — just have one of you facing each way, so one person can always see where you’re both headed.
When it comes to incorporating backwards movement into your fitness regimen, take it step by step. “Use the same rule of thumb you would with forwards running,” says John Stanton, founder of the Running Room: Don’t increase your mileage by more than 10 percent a week, or you could get injured. Any unfamiliar motion can increase muscle fatigue, so when you’re just starting out, try switching 5 to 10 percent of your walking or running from forwards to backwards. Ideally, you can work toward about 40 percent backwards movement and 60 percent forwards. For example, if you go for an hour-long run, try saving around 20 minutes of that time for backwards training, and you’ll be amazed by the results!
Why it’s work it to reverse it
When you walk or run forwards, your heel strikes the ground first, which is high impact. “Walking backwards forces you to land on the ball of your foot, distributing the shock of impact over a longer period,” says Bates. Instead of overstraining the quadriceps, it places more work on the hamstrings, helping to prevent common runners’ injuries. A recent study in the Journal of Biomechanics found that backwards running is especially beneficial for people with knee pain, because the knee-joint position stays relatively constant throughout the movement.
Switching up your direction also strengthens your core and makes you look taller. When people walk or run forwards, they tend to bend forwards from the hips. Moving backwards forces your torso upright and places greater demands on abdominal muscles, says Nora Fritz, a research fellow at Ohio State University, whose latest study looked at the benefits of walking in reverse. Move backwards enough, and the improvements in your posture will pay off even when you’re standing still.
Best of all, walking and running backwards burn about 30 percent more calories than moving forwards at the same speed. A study in the International Journal of Sports Medicine found that female college students who replaced their regular exercise with jogging backwards for 15 to 45 minutes, three times a week, lost almost 2.5 percent of their body fat in six weeks.
Looking for more stories like this? Follow the jump for more running tips and tricks.