The thought of walking or running backwards can either seem dangerous or silly, depending on your stability (balance) level or enjoyment of playground games. Yet, it is something people are seriously talking about in the exercise and science space.
Work of Walking Forwards
When you think you’re walking on autopilot, there’s more going on than you may realize. Your brain and body are activating several systems. The visual and vestibular systems are triggered. The vestibular system is the inner ear structure that works with the brain and your visual cues to control balance and movement, especially when twisting and turning or moving fast. Then there’s the proprioceptive system, the nonvisual way your body determines where it is in space. It gets signals from your muscles and joints. Through proprioception, you’re aware that you’re raising up your arm, even if your eyes are closed.
Walking Backwards is a ‘Thing’
There’s a growing interest in backwards movement because it wakes up our brains to try something varied; and it accomplishes similar but changed exercise benefits for our bodies. Some experts report that walking backwards has demonstrated boosts in metabolism attributed to an increased effort of moving differently. There is evidence of its benefit in neurological rehabilitation for stroke patients and in small studies of gait rehabilitation for specific impairments. Clinical exercise physiologists have reported the most important benefit from walking backwards is improved coordination, strength, and balance.
Tips for Walking Backwards
If you’re interested in changing up your routine to include backwards walking, here are six tips for getting started safely.
- Avoid turning your head to look behind you or looking down at your foot placements. The optimal form for walking backwards is looking straight ahead, just like walking forwards.
- Toe to heel is not a natural foot movement. Expect your stride to include shorter steps, even after you’ve mastered the motion.
- While maintaining forward posture, allow your foot to begin the motion with your big toe establishing contact with the walking surface behind you. As your heel completes the range of motion on one foot, the second backwards step is getting underway.
- Begin backwards walking in an open space with no obstacles and a relatively flat surface while your brain and body coordinate the new balancing act.
- Slowly increase the exercise by trying a treadmill on the lowest speed, holding on to the rails and preferably in a place where others can watch – like your local gym.
- Pay close attention to your body, as you may experience muscle soreness in different areas of your feet or lower legs. Avoid doing too much, too soon.
As with any exercise program, check with your doctor to make sure backwards exercise is safe for you, especially if you have a history of balance issues.