Editor’s Note: Before starting any new exercise program, consult your doctor. Stop immediately if you feel pain.
(CNN) — Head to any gym and you might find someone walking backwards on a treadmill or pedaling in reverse on an elliptical machine. While some may use inversion as part of their physical therapy regimen, others may do so to improve their overall fitness and health.
“I think it’s amazing to add a little back movement to your day,” says Grayson Wickham, a physical therapist at Lux Center for Physical Therapy and Occupational Medicine in New York. “Nowadays, people spend a lot of time sitting and also lack varied movements.”
Quite a few studies have been done on the potential benefits of reverse walking, which is a popular term for walking backwards. In a study conducted in March 2021, Participants who walked backwards on a treadmill for 30 continuous minutes over four weeks increased their balance, walking speed, and cardiopulmonary fitness.
In addition, a group of women reduced their body fat percentage and improved their cardiorespiratory fitness after a six-week program of running and walking backwards, the researchers reported. Clinical trial Their results were published in the April 2005 issue of the International Journal of Sports Medicine.
Other studies suggest that backward movement can help those with knee osteoarthritis and chronic back pain, as well as improving gait and balance.
Walking backwards can sharpen the mind and help you become more aware, as the brain needs to be more alert when moving in this new way. For this reason, in addition to the fact that walking backwards helps with balance, older adults in particular can benefit from incorporating some backward walking into their routine, such as Refers to the 2021 study.
Change the muscles you use
Why is backward movement so useful? “When you step forward, it’s a hamstring-dominant movement,” said Landry Estes, a certified strength and conditioning specialist in College Station, Texas. “If you’re walking backwards, it’s a reversal of the role, where your quads engage and you extend the knee.”
As a result, you are working different muscles, which is always beneficial, in addition to gaining strength. “Strength overcomes many shortcomings,” Estes says.
You also move your body in an atypical way. Most people spend their days living and moving in the sagittal plane (forward and backward movement), almost exclusively in the frontal sagittal plane, Wickham said.
“The body adapts to the most common positions, movements, and situations,” Wickham explains. “This can cause stress on the muscles and joints, causing joint compensation that leads to wear and tear on the joints and thus pain and injuries. The more diverse movements we can add to our daily activities or in the gym, the more it benefits the body.
How to start a reverse walking routine
Backward movement is not a new idea. In China, they have been going backwards for physical and mental health for centuries. Moving backwards is also common in sports: think of footballers and referees.
There are even some backwards running and walking races, as well as people moving backwards while competing in popular events like the Boston Marathon. Lauren Zytomerski did it in 2018 to raise money for epilepsy research and attempt to break a world record. (He achieved the first, but not the second.)
Getting started is very easy. The key, as with any new exercise, is to go little by little. You can start by walking backwards for five minutes a few times a week, Wickham says. Or walk for 20 minutes, five of them in the opposite direction. As your body gets used to the movement, you can increase the time and pace or try more challenging movements, such as walking backwards into a squat.
“If you’re young and exercise regularly, you can probably walk backwards for as long as you want,” Wickham explains. “It’s relatively safe in itself.”
outdoors vs. Mills
Walking backwards and pulling the sled is one of Estes’ favorite exercises. But he says it’s also great to walk backwards on a self-propelled treadmill if you can find one. Although motorized treadmills are also an option, it’s helpful to work on your own strength, Estes says.
If you choose to step back on the treadmill, especially if it’s motorized, start by holding the handrail and set the speed to a fairly slow pace. As you get used to the movement, you can walk faster, increase your incline, and release the handrails.
If you decide to try it outdoors, first choose a risk-free location, such as a grassy area in a park. Then begin your retro adventure, keeping your head and chest high.
Although you may have to look over your shoulder from time to time, you don’t want to do so constantly, as your body twists. Another option is to walk with a friend who steps forward and can act as eyes. After a few minutes, switch roles so your friend can also enjoy the benefits.
“It’s great to do a variety of movements,” Wickham says. “And one of them does things backwards.”
Melanie Radziecki McManus is a freelance writer specializing in hiking, travel, and fitness.