When we talk about variety in a running program, we usually focus on incorporating different types of workouts and races. Such as tempo runs, critical speed workouts, intervals, hills, long runs and recovery runs.
Adding cross training is another essential aspect to keep your training program balanced and healthy. Cycling, rowing, weight training, elliptical machines, swimming, and even walking are great additions to your runs and common forms of low-impact cross-training for runners.
After all, we are theoretically “designed” – or at least conditioned – for forward motion. That said, it turns out that by only walking normally, we might be missing out on some unexpected benefits of walking backwards.
1: Walking backwards works the muscles differently.
One study found significant differences in muscle activation between walking and running forwards and backwards, as shown by electromyography (EMG) and joint kinetics.
In forward running, muscle activity in the vastus lateralis and vastus medialis obliques (quadriceps) was largely eccentric and concentric, whereas these same muscles contract isometrically and concentrically during backward running.
Although this finding may seem relatively unnecessary, it has potential therapeutic benefits for physical therapy and rehabilitation. Isometric quadriceps contractions can improve knee extensor strength more safely and effectively than eccentric contractions.
In practical terms, this means running or walking backwards, rather than forwards, may be more helpful when trying to strengthen your quadriceps or returning from a knee injury or knee pain caused by weakness. quadriceps.
2: Walking backwards improves balance and stability.
According to a study, some of the benefits of walking backwards are improving balance, stride length, and walking speed. Balance is especially challenged when walking backwards because you can’t see where you’re going and you don’t have visual information to help with spatial and body awareness.
If you struggle with the mind-body connection or your kinesthetic awareness (innate sense of your body’s position in space), adding walking backwards to your routine can potentially help you have a better sense of positioning. your limbs and your body.
3: Walking backwards can improve your cardiorespiratory fitness.
Runners want to do everything they can to improve their VO2 max, a measure of aerobic capacity. In addition to your running intervals and speed workouts, there’s also evidence to suggest that a training program of walking backwards can improve cardiovascular fitness and body composition.
After following the intervention program of walking backwards, subjects showed a significant decrease in oxygen consumption during forward and backward exercise on the treadmill at submaximal intensities. And their predictive VO2 max values for the 20-meter shuttle test improved significantly. Finally, their body fat percentage decreased by 2.4%.
4: Walking backwards can reduce knee pain.
Walking backwards can be a good idea if you have osteoarthritis in your knees.
A study compared the effects of a 6-week backward walking program versus a control group on pain, functional disability, quadriceps muscle strength, and exercise performance in participants with knee osteoarthritis .
At the end of the intervention, the backward walking group had a greater reduction in pain intensity and functional disability than the control group, as well as a greater improvement in quadriceps muscle strength. .
The results were similar to the forward walking group (backward training was slightly more effective, but not statistically significant), showing that forward or backward locomotion may be beneficial in reducing pain and improve leg function and strength in people with knee osteoarthritis.
5: Walking backwards is good for your brain.
Much like learning a whole new sport, walking backwards pushes your brain out of its comfort zone and challenges your coordination and movement patterns in ways we rarely experience at the age. adult.
Some experts claim that walking backwards can also promote creativity, and most people find it fun!