How many steps did you take today?
For many people, walking is one of the easiest, low-impact forms of exercise. Each step can help to increase its metabolism and, for some of us, help lessen our guilt about eating all those holiday cookies.
One form of walking, however, can provide some benefits that traditional forward walking cannot: reverse walking. This non-traditional form of movement can help strengthen the mind, muscles and joints.
The health benefits
One of the benefits of walking backwards is that it can help strengthen your mind and your coordination.
“Doing something like challenging the body to walk backwards actually requires a lot of coordination, a lot of effort, and it’s asking your brain to do something it’s not used to doing,” said McNamara.
He noted how recovering stroke victims, who are learning to walk again, can benefit from rehabilitation exercises that include walking backwards. By mastering the difficult task of walking backwards, they strengthen their coordination skills and can improve in a less difficult form of movement, walking forwards.
Another benefit of walking backwards is the strengthening of muscles and joints.
According to McNamara, when you step back, two of the four major muscles in our thighs tend to work a little harder than if you were stepping forward. Because these two muscles work a little more, they get a little stronger, which helps stabilize the knee and relieves the knee of some pressure.
This can sometimes mean a better quality of life and reduced pain for people with knee osteoarthritis, McNamara noted.
Walking backwards also burns more calories.
This is because walking backward works muscle groups that aren’t usually used when walking forward. It also involves taking shorter and more strides, rather than longer strides when walking forward. More muscles are also activated to keep you upright and prevent you from falling backwards.
Although walking backwards leads to greater energy expenditure, McNamara warns that it may not be the best exercise choice for weight management. Instead, he said the exercise is best suited for strength and resistance training.
The best way to walk backwards
Anyone interested in walking backwards should consider the logistics involved.
Unlike walking forward, which a person can do for hours or over various types of terrain, walking backwards for a long time would require a flat, level path. To ensure the safest environment for walking backwards, McNamara advised walking backwards on a treadmill, as it provides a straight, flat, and unobstructed route.
Instead of a long reverse duration, however, he recommended that people walk backwards for shorter periods of time and create resistance by dragging something as they walk.
He noted how athletes, such as NFL players, can undergo strength training by weighing down a sled drag and then pulling it towards them as they walk backwards. This resistance training is a standard form of exercise for many teams.