Have you ever seen someone running backward and wondered what they were doing? You may be surprised to find out that backward running, referred to sometimes as retro running or reverse running, does more than just look goofy – it can be good for you.
Various researchers have touted the benefits of backward running, although most studies done on the subject have only involved a limited number of participants. So while it’s best to take any claims about backward running in stride, you may still want to give the activity a try even if just to mix up your workout a bit.
Here are some of the reasons why running backward may be good for you:
Running posture – Running forward can make you prone to poor posture, especially when you’re tired. But the motion of running backward forces you to keep your back straighter. This will help you engage your core better and reduces the chance of back or neck pain that comes from slouching or leaning too far forward during a run.
Calories burned – When you run forward, the back of your foot initially hits the ground and you create pent-up energy as your foot rolls forward that is released when it pushes off the ground. When you run backward, that same energy isn’t created to help you complete the motion. That means your leg muscles have to do more work and you may expend as much as 20-30% more energy, resulting in more calories burned at the same pace.
Running economy – One small study found that trained athletes who spent 5 weeks running backward instead of forward improved their running economy by 2.5% without requiring more oxygen.
Repetitive stress injuries – You don’t put the same pressure on your knees or ankles when you run backward as when you run forward, so if you can alternate the direction in which you run, you’ll be less prone to injuries resulting from repetitively stressing the same joint. Also, since the backward running motion puts less pressure on your knees, according to one study it may be an effective way to stay physically active while returning from an injury.
If you’re going to give backward running a try, keep in mind that despite the potential benefits, there’s a downside as well. Since you can’t see what’s behind you, there’s a higher risk of tripping, falling or colliding with something or someone, which can result in injury. That’s why it’s best to try the activity on a track, where you can use the lane markers to help you stay on course. Or run backward alongside a friend who is running forward and can point out any obstacles along the way.
Your muscles will fatigue more quickly when you first start running backward since it’s not a motion your body is used to, so start out slowly. Intersperse a few minutes of backward running into your forward running routine and add time as you feel more comfortable or begin by walking backward and increase speed as your body acclimates to the motion.