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You’ve likely heard that walking just 10 to 30 minutes per day is associated with many health benefits and can help you live a healthier life. This simple, weight-bearing exercise may help reduce your risk of cardio issues, maintain your weight, and even boost your mental health. 

However, if you want to take this basic exercise up a notch and switch up your routine, just put your walking gears in reverse and walk backward. So, if you’ve ever wondered, “Is walking backwards good for you?” you’ll get the answer to that question right here. 

7 Health Benefits of Walking Backwards

Turns out, walking backward actually has quite a few proven health benefits that most people don’t know about. We know that forward walking already packs a powerful punch, so this form of exercise just takes it to a new level. Let’s explore some of those health benefits below! 

1. Improve Your Coordination By Walking Backwards

One of the major perks of walking backward is how it improves your stability and balance. One study actually evaluated 33 subjects to assess the effects of forward and backward walking on balance and gait ability. They found that walking backward had positive effects on both as well as improved walking speed. 

As we know, forward walking is very natural, and it’s something we can do without thinking about it. But walking backward presents a new challenge because you can’t exactly see where you’re going. The lack of visual assistance means you must rely more on your spatial and body awareness. Therefore, this alone can improve coordination and balance. 

Person walking backward on a treadmill

2. Reduce Knee Pain With Backwards Walking

Struggling with knee pain may make you want to sit more, but walking backward might actually be just what you need. A 2019 study published in BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders evaluated 68 participants over six weeks. The study’s primary goal was to compare the effect of retro walking versus forward walking regarding knee pain and function in individuals with knee osteoarthritis. In addition, they also wanted to assess the impact backward and forward walking had on quad muscle strength and performance in those same participants.

The study revealed that the retro walking group experienced a greater reduction in functional disability than the control group. Researchers also found that pain intensity had decreased and leg muscle strength had improved for individuals in the backwards walking group. This is likely because reverse walking places less strain on the knee joint than regular walking. 

Overall, it’s reasonable to say that this form of physical activity is highly beneficial for individuals with a knee injury, pain in their knee joint, or knee osteoarthritis. 

3. Experience Weight Loss With Retro Walking

If regular walking can help you maintain your weight, you’ll be glad to know that walking backward can do even more. A major benefit of walking backwards is your ability to increase your calorie burn. 

In 2011, the Compendium of Physical Activity ranked and measured the energy expenditure of retro walking, among other exercises. They found that walking backwards at 3.5 miles per hour earns you a whopping 6.0 metabolic equivalents (METs)! Regular walking only warrants 4.3 METs. It’s important to understand that the higher the METs, the higher your caloric expenditure. Therefore, you’ll benefit from a 40% boost in the calories burned per minute of walking just by walking backwards. 

If you’re a fan of high-intensity interval training, retro walking can be easily added to your routine. Something as simple as walking backwards at a slow speed will naturally raise your heart rate. If you want to advance your workout even more, walk backwards uphill, and you’ll earn 8.0 METs. 

4. Utilize Different Muscles With Backwards Walking

One reason that backwards walking is used in physical therapy and sports medicine is that it works out your muscles differently. A study published in the Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy found great differences in how the muscles are used between forward and backward walking and running. They used electromyography and joint kinetics to study those differences. 

Researchers found that with forward running, muscle activity of the quadriceps was concentric and eccentric. However, with backwards running, those same muscles contracted isometrically and concentrically. Physical therapists find isometric contractions of the quad muscles much safer and better for improving knee strength. Sometimes, knee pain is brought on by quad muscle weakness, so retro walking could help. 

5. May Reduce Back Pain

Did you know lower back pain causes more disability worldwide than any other condition? Fortunately, backwards walking may aid in reducing pain or preventing lower back issues altogether. A study published in the Journal of Chiropractic Medicine found greater activation of the lumbar multifidus (MF) muscles and erector spinae (ES) superficial extensor muscles with backwards walking. 

These muscles produce movement and assist with counterbalancing when lifting external loads. Unfortunately, though, in many lower back pain patients, these muscles are weak and atrophied. Retro walking can strengthen and stretch those muscles, which may reduce back pain. 

Close up shot of feet walking backward on a treadmill

6. Enhance Your Cardiorespiratory Fitness 

If you’re looking to improve your VO2 max, a measure of aerobic capacity, retro walking might be something to consider. One study investigated the effect of a backward walking/running training program to see what impact it had on cardiorespiratory fitness. 

At the end of the study, participants had a notable decrease in oxygen consumption during both forward and backward exercises on a treadmill. In addition, their predictive VO2 max values for the 20-meter shuttle test had progressed remarkably. Researchers also saw that participants had significant changes in their body composition: The young women decreased their body fat percentage by 2.4%. 

7. Keep Your Brain Sharp

This one might surprise you, but walking backwards is good for your brain, too. Regular walking doesn’t require much thinking, but reverse walking gives your brain and body a new challenge. Training your muscles isn’t just about the muscles you’re physically moving. It involves brain power too. You’ll create and sharpen neural connections by leaping out of your comfort zone and walking backwards. 

In addition, one study found that people who walked backwards or even thought about walking backwards could recall past events better than those who sat still or walked forward. So, could it be that walking backwards enhances your thinking and memory skills? It’s not too far-fetched since walking backwards is against our natural logic and requires more effort to pull off.

Safety Considerations for Reverse Walking

Now that we’ve covered seven benefits of walking backwards, it’s time to switch gears a bit. Before starting any new exercise, it’s essential to consider how to do so safely. Therefore, here are some tips for safely adding this to your routine. 

  • If you’re walking outdoors, recruit some walking partners so you don’t have to go at it alone. You can walk backwards while they walk forward, watching for approaching people and vehicles, cracked sidewalks, and more. Plus, it’ll be a bit more fun! 
  • If you’re walking indoors, ensure the area is free of obstacles before you start. Remove any rugs, pets, furniture, toys, and more that would get in your way while walking. 
  • It may be better to start off walking backwards on a treadmill so you can get used to the motion of it. Treadmills also have handrails that you can hold onto. Start at a low speed, like 1 mile per hour, then increase it as you get comfortable. To get the hill effect, add incline to your exercise. 

FAQs About Walking Backward

What are the Health Benefits of Walking Backward?

According to the research, walking backward has several health benefits. Some of those benefits include: 

– Enhanced body consciousness 
– Improved sleep 
– Stronger heart
– Better mental clarity
– Strengthening of less used leg muscles
– Reduced lower back pain
– Increased energy levels 
– Less strain on your knees
– Enhanced mood
– Boosted metabolism 

How Much Should I Walk Backward?

How often you walk backward is based on where you are physically and your comfort level. Incorporating 10 to 20 minutes a few days per week is reasonable. That alone will strengthen your underutilized muscles and flex out your hamstrings. 

Is it good for your knees to walk backward?

Walking backwards is said to be really good for your knees. In fact, a study published in the Journal of Biomechanics revealed that backward running reduced anterior knee pain. Therefore, one could easily assume that walking backwards would be beneficial too. 

For instance, patellofemoral pain is a fairly common injury, and patellofemoral joint compression forces brought on by forward walking can aggravate symptoms. Walking backwards had reduced joint compression forces compared to forward walking. As a result, it’d be beneficial to implement, especially if you’ve injured your knee. Retro walking also strengthens different muscles, like your quads, which can also help your knees. 

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