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Walking Backward: The Mind and Body Benefits

Woman walking on beach

Doing the same fitness routine every day can feel boring after awhile. To prevent this, you don’t need to reinvent the wheel or completely give up on the workouts you’re currently doing.

Something as subtle as incorporating 10-20 minutes of backward walking or jogging a few times a week can provide you with the workout variety your mind and body crave. Here are the benefits.

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Why walk backward?

On the surface, walking backward may seem silly or useless. Take a deeper look, though. It actually provides a number of perks for both your physical and mental well-being. It’s a simple way for you to challenge different muscles and force your mind to focus and operate differently.

Walking backward provides a number of benefits to your mind and body.

Mental benefits

  • enhanced sense of body awareness
  • increased body coordination and movement in space
  • helps avoid workout boredom
  • improves overall mood
  • helps with sleep cycles
  • motivates you to step outside your comfort zone
  • keeps your mind guessing
  • sharpens your thinking skills and enhances cognitive control
  • puts senses into overdrive, improving vision

Body benefits

  • increases strength in lesser-used leg muscles
  • helps rehabilitate knee injuries
  • improves walking technique and form
  • helps with balance
  • burns calories
  • helps you maintain a healthy weight
  • strengthens bones and muscles
  • boosts energy levels
  • elevates body’s metabolism

Other benefits

While walking normally (forward motion) is something that we do everyday without any conscious thought, walking backward can help you improve your leg endurance and aerobic capacity more rapidly. That’s because the challenge you are placing on your body is greater. You’re forcing your body to adapt to new and unfamiliar demands, which promotes improvements and growth in your physical fitness.

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A study published in the Journal of Biomechanics found that backward running reduced anterior knee pain compared to forward running. Another study published in the International Journal of Sports Medicine found that a combination of backward running and walking may improve cardiorespiratory fitness and change body composition.

Your body is less familiar with walking backward, so you can expect to get more cardiovascular and calorie-burning benefits in a shorter amount of time. This makes your workouts more efficient and intense.

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Ways to try walking backward

Trying to run backward outside is certainly doable, but it might be safer to use a treadmill. It may sound like a hazardous way to run with all of the variables, like speed and the spinning belt. But the treadmill offers handrails and a stable place for you to improve your ability to run backward.

If you’re well-acquainted with walking and/or running on the treadmill, you’ll still want to approach this with caution. Start with the treadmill at a slow speed (starting at 1 mph) and then work up to a more brisk walk (around 3 mph).

If you feel that you’re a little out of control, bring the speed down. Focus on each individual stride and concentrate on each step, instead of getting ahead of yourself. Remember that safety comes first. Start small and then build up as you get more comfortable.

Running backward

As you advance to faster speeds on the treadmill, you can try backward running. This version of running actually puts less stress on your knees than traditional running, making it ideal for those who struggle with knee pain. With backward running, it’s even more important to make safety a priority. Use the handrails on the treadmill as you need them.

If you have access to a track (indoor or outdoor), it can act as an alternative to the treadmill. Many gyms have indoor tracks. Also, check if there’s an outdoor track at your local school. It may be open to the public when school practices aren’t taking place.

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Next steps

Finding a rhythm with your daily exercise routine isn’t a bad thing. But all of your hard work and time spent in the gym can often be used more effectively if you change up your workout. Adding a few minutes of backward walking into your routine can be challenging and fun. Bring an exercise buddy with you to share a few laughs.

Everyone feels a bit strange and goofy walking or jogging backward at first. But before long, you’ll feel the gratification of different muscles engaging in a new way. 

Jessica Salyer
Article resources
  • Barton, N., Roos, P. E., & van Deursen, R. W. (2012, June). Patellofemoral joint compression forces in backward and forward running. Journal of Biomechanics, 45(9), 1656-60. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22503882
  • Kroff, J., Page, C., Terblanche, E., & Venter, R. E. (2005, April). The effect of backward locomotion training on the body composition and cardiorespiratory fitness of young women. International Journal of Sports Medicine, 26(3), 214-9. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15776337
  • Mayo Clinic Staff. (2016, March 19). Walking: Trim your waistline, improve your health. Retrieved from http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-living/fitness/in-depth/walking/art-20046261
  • Stimulate your fitness IQ by walking backward. (2012, December 14). Retrieved from http://fitness.mercola.com/sites/fitness/archive/2012/12/14/walking-backward.aspx
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