Ever tried to walk backwards on a treadmill?
Well, if you do a lot of treadmill walking, you must have got bored out of your mind of forward-walking and looking for a way to spice things up in your training.
You’ve probably heard about backward walking in physical therapy science and sports medicine. According to Lori Shemek, the renowned fitness expert who specializes in weight loss resistance, “walking 100 steps backward is equivalent to 1,000 steps forward walking.”
So, how true is this statement? And what are the benefits you can get from such a controversial workout? Keep reading!
How Is Backward Walking Different From Walking Forward?
Whether you walk forward or backward, you’re doing your muscular and cardiovascular systems a favor. Both workouts share many health benefits, yet they differ in the muscles they work and the effort each of them takes.
An easy backward walk equals a brisk forward walk, meaning you exert more energy walking backward. You also work different muscles in your legs that you don’t usually engage when walking forwards.
When you put one leg behind the other, you reach back with your toes and land with your front foot before your heels touch the ground. This range of motion works your shin muscles instead of your calves, which receive more focus when forward walking.
The same goes for your thighs. Instead of training your hamstrings and quads, backward walking focuses more on your glutes, lowering the stress on your joints and improving your overall body alignment.
Is There Any Benefit to Walking Backward?
Backward walking may sound like a dumb workout to do at first. However, there are many quality peer-reviewed studies in famous journals like Sports Med about the different benefits of this exercise. One of them actually emphasizes the positive effects of backward movement on body composition and aerobic fitness.
Other benefits include:
Easier on Your Knees and Lower Back
When you walk forwards, your heel hits the ground first, throwing your weight on your hips, knees, and ankles. That’s why you sometimes feel knee pain and stiffness after walking for a long time.
On the other hand, when walking backward, your front foot lands on the ground first, alleviating this impact by distributing it over your entire body instead of focusing it on specific areas. The result is an easier effect on your joints.
This type of workout also improves the posture, lowering the chances of low-back pain.
We tend to hunch our backs when marching forwards, ruining our gait, and the opposite is true. To avoid tripping when walking backward, we further straighten our backs to balance our bodies, which results in a more proper form while exercising. It’s even been proven that backward walking can be helpful in the treatment of people with gait problems.
Improves Your Body Balance
A study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health and another in the journal of Physical Therapy Science observed that people who incorporate backward walking in their exercise routine showed signs of improved balance and lower risk of falling.
The thing is, your feet are used to kicking forwards without much thought. However, on walking backward, you can’t say where you’re putting your foot next, so you train your brain to pay more attention to your stability and balance.
Boosts Your Mental Health
One of the killer things about working out on a treadmill is that it becomes boring faster than any other type of exercise.
That’s when backward running or walking comes in. These exercises keep things fun and put your mind in control more, which helps boost your mood, lower stress, and improve your ability to solve problems quickly.
Burns More Calories
Backward walking burns nearly 40% more calories than regular walking.
You don’t really need to spend much time walking backwards. That’s because it raises your heart rate faster and keeps you in the fat-burning zone longer, making it a better exercise for people whose primary reason for working out is to drop weight quickly.
Best for Rehab and Physical Fitness
Backward walking allows for an entirely different range of motion, which can help people in rehabilitation and physical therapy programs. It enables the knee to straighten better, improves the quads’ function, and adds more flexibility to your hamstrings.
These results can’t be achieved by walking forwards only. So if you suffer from arthritis or knee injury or have recently undergone leg surgery, your therapist might suggest backward walking to ease you back into physical activity.
How to Walk Backward on a Treadmill
You’ve made a great decision choosing to reverse walk on a treadmill rather than an outdoor track. That’d be better for your safety, especially if you’re performing this exercise with an injury.
Now, there are four backward workouts you can do on the treadmill:
Reverse-Walking at Low Speed
To perform this exercise, follow these steps:
- First, stand close to the console with your back to it. Don’t get too close to the machine’s rear to avoid any accidents while walking.
- Attach the safety key to your shirt. This key will stop the belt immediately if you become unsteady or go too far from the console.
- Start the treadmill and adjust it to a slow speed first, then work your way to faster speeds. A good speed to start with is 1mph. You can try a brisk walk when you feel you’re in better control of your movement.
- Focus on your stride and extend your arms while holding onto the rails to support your body.
- You can go like that from 10-15 minutes in the beginning. Then, you can spend more time on this exercise after getting used to it.
Adding incline can help strengthen your muscles further and boost your metabolism. Just make sure to go slow with the incline just as the speed and don’t raise both of them at the same time. You can raise the speed first, then after your body adjusts to it, bring the belt up a degree.
To mix up your routine and keep the boredom away, you can do both straight and backward walking in the same session. Try walking straight ahead for 20 minutes, then stop the machine and turn around. Walk backward for 2-3 minutes, then repeat the process.
After you get used to the slow rhythm of backward walking, you can try backward running. This is actually more like jogging than running since it isn’t at a very high speed. Yet, it offers more health benefits than standard running.
Emma James, 29 years old professional fitness trainer with Bachelor’s degree in Physical Fitness Technician from Boston University.