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Step Back to Health

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It’s time to take a step back, literally! Backward walking, once relegated to the realm of eccentricity or rehabilitation, is now emerging as a fascinating twist on traditional fitness routines. Ready for a workout that challenges the norm and amplifies your fitness? Discover the benefits of walking backward, read on, and get prepared to move in reverse.

Author

Brett Melanson, PhD

Date

December 12, 2023

Category

Health and wellness

Tags

Immunity, Lifestyle, Longevity

Revolutionize Your Fitness: The Unexpected Benefits of Walking Backwards

Immunity, Lifestyle, Longevity

Author

Author

Brett Melanson, PhD

December 12, 2023

Brett Melanson, PhD

It’s time to take a step back, literally! Backward walking, once relegated to the realm of eccentricity or rehabilitation, is now emerging as a fascinating twist on traditional fitness routines.

Ready for a workout that challenges the norm and amplifies your fitness? Discover the benefits of walking backward, read on, and get prepared to move in reverse.

Key Takeaways

  • Walking backward offers multiple health benefits, including improved strength and stability, increased muscle activation, enhanced balance and coordination & reduced risk of injury.
  • Walking backward can be an effective way to boost cardiovascular fitness while also sharpening mental focus & strengthening the brain/nervous system.
  • Leveraging technology with professional guidance helps optimize a backward walking experience for optimal results.

Reversing Your Routine: How Walking Backwards Amplifies Fitness

Fitness

Think about a workout that activates various muscle groups, ramps up cardio, and injects variety into your routine without needing any new equipment.

No, it’s not a new high-tech workout program, but an age-old activity we all know and love: walking. But with a twist - we’re talking about walking backward! This seemingly simple modification to your regular walking routine can amplify your fitness in ways you might not expect.

Walking backward can provide significant health benefits to a diverse group of individuals. This includes:

  • Athletes
  • The elderly
  • Young people
  • Obese individuals
  • Those with osteoarthritis
  • Those recovering from stroke with walking difficulties

Backward or retro walking offers an excellent opportunity for workout variety, and incorporating backward running can further enhance the benefits.

Walking backward is a great way to challenge the body and make workouts more efficient and intense, as it provides more cardiovascular and calorie-burning benefits in a shorter time than normal walking.

Additionally, backward walking can offer a unique twist to your exercise routine.

So, how does one integrate backward walking into their routine? Integrating 10-20 minutes of walking backward several times a week can yield substantial benefits, such as assisting in weight management.

A New Angle on Muscle Engagement

Walking backward is akin to flipping the fitness world upside down. It may seem like a small change from regular forward walking, but it engages muscles differently. Walking backward effectively engages muscles, providing:

  • Improved strength and stability
  • Increased muscle activation
  • Enhanced balance and coordination
  • Reduced risk of injury

Walking backward can also contribute to reducing body fat percentage when combined with a balanced diet and regular exercise.

In forward running, the quads demonstrate a dynamic range of eccentric, concentric, and isometric contractions.

However, the same muscles contract both concentrically and isometrically during backward running.

This distinctive muscle activation in backward walking escalates strength and stability and can be exceedingly beneficial for physical therapy and rehab.

Incorporating some backward walking or running into your rehab program can be a great way to boost strength and stability in the VMO muscle, significantly contributing to a runner’s knee.

Isometric contractions of the quads can provide a safe and effective way to increase knee extensor strength.

Cardio Boost with a Twist

Cardio

Cardiovascular fitness is a critical component of overall health and well-being, helping to improve stamina, burn calories, and keep our hearts healthy.

But who said cardio has to be all about forward motion? Walking backward can have a favorable effect on cardiovascular fitness and body composition.

It has been found that walking backward on a treadmill at various inclines can significantly improve VO2 max, a measure of the maximum volume of oxygen an athlete can use.

Walking backward can have an excellent effect on heart rate compared to regular walking.

It activates muscles in the lower limbs and engages different muscle groups, resulting in enhanced cardiovascular advantages.

Moreover, because the body is less accustomed to walking backward, it can result in a higher heart rate and calorie burn in a shorter period.

Variety for Vitality

The human body flourishes with variety. It craves challenges and novel experiences.

Incorporating backward walking into exercise routines brings variety and invigorates the body with new challenges.

Introducing variety in workout routines has several exciting physiological benefits:

  • It helps keep workouts interesting
  • It stimulates the mind
  • It prevents training plateaus
  • It encourages the body to adapt and reach even better results.

Backward walking works wonders for:

  • your glutes
  • anterior tibialis (shins)
  • muscles in the feet and ankles
  • quadriceps
  • hamstring muscles

Plus, it increases your range of motion in the knee joints. This unique engagement of muscles combined with the added variety to your workout routine can boost your vitality and enhance your overall physical health.

The Kinesthetic Edge: Enhanced Body Awareness and Balance

Balance

Walking backward is not solely a physical challenge but also a mental one.

It requires a higher level of body awareness and balance, as you must pay more attention to your movements and surroundings. This can enhance balance, step length, and walking speed.

Backward walking can be a great way to enhance attention, concentration, and spatial awareness.

It boosts body awareness and balance, sharpening mental focus in the process. Furthermore, backward walking can significantly improve step length and walking speed.

Walking backward can assuredly assist in improving your awareness of limb and body positioning.

Sharpening Mental Focus

Enhancing mental focus isn’t just about doing puzzles or brain-training games. Physical activities like backward walking can also play a significant role. Walking backward can aid in enhancing the following:

  • coordination
  • movement
  • stimulating the brain
  • fostering creativity

Walking backward offers numerous neurological benefits! It can help:

  • Strengthen the mind and coordination
  • Sharpen mental focus
  • Improve short-term memory
  • Improve body awareness
  • Enhance stability, balance, and gait

All in all, walking backward is a great exercise for the brain and nervous system.

Stabilizing Steps

Enhancing physical stability can profoundly impact our overall health and quality of life.

It can make us more agile and less prone to falls, a crucial benefit, especially for older adults. Backward walking can be incredibly therapeutic for stroke patients and highly beneficial for older adults, as it improves balance, mobility, and gait.

For older adults, backward walking offers many advantages in balance and mobility. It enhances balance, strengthens legs, and boosts mobility and core muscles.

Moreover, backward walking can have even more beneficial effects on mobility and balance than regular forward walking. After one month, stroke patients showed marked improvements in their balance.

This was in stark contrast to a control group who had not gone through any backward walking exercise.

Some of the benefits of backward walking include:

  • Enhanced balance
  • Strengthened legs
  • Boosted mobility
  • Strengthened core muscles

A study conducted on stroke patients found that after one month of backward walking exercise, there were significant improvements in their balance compared to a control group who did not engage in backward walking.

Initiating the first steps indoors and progressively advancing with professional guidance are effective ways to embark on backward walking.

Pain Relief in Reverse: Walking Backwards for Knee Health

Knee health

If you’re someone who experiences knee pain, you’re probably always on the lookout for exercises that can help relieve the discomfort without causing further harm. Enter backward walking.

This simple modification to your walking routine can benefit individuals with knee pain or joint issues.

Backward walking can enhance mobility and alleviate joint stress, potentially leading to decreased knee pain.

Several studies have demonstrated that backward walking can enhance lower limb proprioception, gait synergy, limb balance, and quadriceps muscle strength in individuals with knee osteoarthritis.

Additionally, it has been found to decrease pain and increase function in individuals with knee pain.

Backward walking is an effective method to:

  • Stimulate muscles in the lower limbs
  • Enhance knee extension without overloading the knee joint
  • Be beneficial for those with knee osteoarthritis and chronic back pain
  • Enhance gait and balance

Easing the Knee Joint

Backward walking can notably enhance knee joint health by alleviating pain and augmenting mobility and functional capability.

A study published in the Journal of Clinical and Diagnostic Research found that retro-walking or walking backward, can be highly effective in reducing pain and disability in patients with acute exacerbation of knee osteoarthritis.

During backward walking, the leg swings through the air and reaches backward with a bent knee, allowing for a unique movement pattern that puts different demands on the knee joint than forward walking.

The toes contact the ground first, followed by the heel, providing a positive experience.

Gentle on the Joints

Identifying an appropriate form of exercise can be a genuine challenge for those enduring joint issues.

High-impact activities may exacerbate pain, but a lack of physical activity can lead to further health problems. Walking backward is a low-impact exercise that can offer multiple remarkable benefits for joint health, such as:

  • Improved balance and coordination
  • Reduced impact on joints
  • Strengthening of muscles around the joints
  • Increased joint flexibility
  • Enhanced proprioception

A physical therapist recommends low-impact exercise for physical therapy and rehabilitation as it provides many benefits, including:

  • Putting less stress on the joints
  • Helping to reduce the risk of further injury
  • Allowing for better technique and alignment
  • Promoting faster recovery
  • Aiding with weight loss without exacerbating joint pain.

Overall, walking backward can assist in refining mental focus and strengthening cognitive function.

Metabolic Makeover: Burning More Calories Backward

Burning more calories

If weight management is on your list of health goals, you might be interested to know that walking backward burns significantly more calories than walking forward.

But what’s the science behind this?

Walking backward is an efficient method to increase calorie burn and boost fitness owing to the increased energy demand.

Walking backward uphill is an excellent way to incorporate high-intensity interval training (HIIT) into your routine in a low-impact way. Walking backward at the same speed as walking forwards is 6.0 METs, significantly higher than the 4.3 METs for walking forwards.

Intensified Energy Expenditure

Walking backward demands more energy than forward walking, leading to escalated calorie burn and enhanced fitness. Increased energy expenditure during exercise has several specific advantages:

  1. Weight loss
  2. Improved cardiovascular health
  3. Increased metabolism
  4. Enhanced mood and mental well-being
  5. Increased muscle strength and endurance

All of these will bring about a healthier, happier you and contribute to maintaining a healthy weight.

The muscles primarily used in backward walking that can increase energy expenditure include:

  • Glutes
  • Hamstrings
  • Calves
  • Hip flexors

Walking backward burns an impressive almost 40% more calories than walking forward.

Supporting Healthy Aging

Walking backward holds the potential to amplify muscle and bone health, lessen the risk of chronic diseases, and exert a positive effect on the health span.

Backward walking engages different muscles and challenges the body in unique ways, enhancing lower body strength and body composition. It can benefit healthy aging by preserving independence and guarding against falls.

Previous studies have found that backward walking can stimulate the muscles in the lower limbs, improve balance, maintain muscle mass and strength, and increase gait speed and stride length.

It has also been shown to be beneficial in:

  • improving gait and muscle strength in people with knee issues
  • reducing the risk of falls in older adults
  • improving cognitive function and memory
  • increasing calorie burn compared to forward walking

So, don’t be afraid to try backward walking and reap the many benefits it has to offer!

Step-by-Step: Integrating Backward Walking into Your Life

As with any novel exercise, initiating slowly and advancing progressively is imperative. This is particularly true for backward walking, as it requires a level of coordination and balance that may be unfamiliar initially.

Consulting with a healthcare professional before attempting to start backward walking on your own can be a significant first step.

Beginning at a slow pace and trying out backward, walking on a treadmill while grasping the handrails can assist in familiarizing yourself with the activity.

Starting Indoors

Starting your backward walking routine indoors can provide a controlled environment where you can focus on your form without worrying about obstacles or uneven terrain. When walking backward indoors, follow these steps:

  1. Maintain an upright posture with your spine aligned and shoulders relaxed.
  2. Place your toes on the ground before your heel with each step.
  3. Use your arms to reach back with each stride for a smooth and effortless movement.

There’s no need for any special gear - you can start off in a hallway or any indoor area.

Gradual Progression with Professional Insight

Gradual advancement is the key to securely incorporating backward walking into your lifestyle.

Consulting with a professional before a backward walking routine is preferred for proper guidance, injury prevention, and excellent results.

A personal trainer can provide invaluable expertise in creating a safe and effective backward walking routine by assessing your current fitness level, designing a customized program, teaching proper techniques, monitoring progress, and providing encouragement and support.

A healthcare professional can help facilitate the success of a backward walking routine by:

  • Offering invaluable guidance on proper technique and form
  • Closely monitoring progress and making necessary adjustments
  • Assessing changes in balance and coordination
  • Providing modifications or additional exercises as needed
  • Working together to set and reach goals

The recommended progression rate for backward walking exercises can vary depending on individual conditions.

However, most sources suggest starting at a plodding speed, around 1 mile per hour (MPH), and gradually increasing the speed as you become more comfortable and confident.

Leveraging Tech for Tracking: Utilizing Tools to Monitor Progress

In this era of technology, it can play a significant role in our fitness journeys.

From fitness trackers to health apps, technology can help us understand our bodies better, track our progress, and make informed decisions about our health and fitness.

Leveraging technology and professional assistance can enable tracking progress and making knowledgeable decisions for backward walking.

Data-Driven Decisions

Tools like InsideTracker and Nutrisense can provide invaluable data to help you track your progress and make data-driven decisions.

InsideTracker provides an incredible opportunity to analyze your bloodwork, lifestyle, diet, and DNA (for specific plans) and generate personalized recommendations to help you reach your health-related goals.

Nutrisense offers a remarkable wellness program that utilizes a continuous glucose monitor (CGM) for blood glucose monitoring. The program provides expert guidance, a food-logging app, and access to coaching.

The data provided by InsideTracker and Nutrisense is generally reliable, based on quality data sources, advanced algorithms for analysis, and adherence to recommended protocols.

However, for best results, it is recommended to consult with healthcare professionals or experts in the field to evaluate the accuracy and reliability of the data provided by these platforms.

Data from these tools can help make health-related decisions, leading to:

  • Better patient outcomes
  • Cost savings
  • Personalized healthcare
  • The ability to identify trends and patterns in health data.

Summary

In conclusion, walking backward offers a fresh and engaging way to enhance your fitness. Whether you want to engage different muscle groups, boost your cardio, improve your balance and body awareness, or add variety to your workouts, backward walking offers a unique and effective solution.

With its myriad physical and cognitive benefits, it’s time to step back to move forward in your fitness journey.

Frequently Asked Questions

Are there any benefits to walking backward?

Backward walking has been found to reduce knee and joint pain, improve balance ability, burn more calories than forward walking, benefit the elderly, young, obese individuals, sufferers of osteoarthritis, post-stroke patients with walking impairments, help those with knee osteoarthritis and chronic back pain, improve gait and balance, and sharpen your mind.

Therefore, there are many benefits to walking backward.

What muscles are toned by walking backward?

Walking backward is an effective way to tone your glutes, shins, feet, and ankles while simultaneously reducing the impact on your knees and lower back.

Does walking backward fix posture?

Walking backward can help improve posture and balance by forcing you to move slowly and use different muscles.

Does walking backward strengthen your knees?

Walking backward can improve the range of motion in the knee, quadriceps strength, hamstring flexibility, mobility, cardiopulmonary system, and balance.

Studies and reviews have found that walking backward effectively relieves knee pain and improves gait and muscle strength after injuries or illnesses.

Is walking backward safe?

Walking backward is generally safe if done gradually and with caution. It's recommended to consult with a healthcare professional beforehand to ensure it is suitable for your health conditions.

Author

Author

Brett Melanson, PhD

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