meIf you spend a lot of time scrolling through TikTok, there’s a chance you’ve come across the recent trend of people walking backwards. Aside from looking pretty weird, is there a reason for this change? Isn’t a good old-fashioned forward move enough anymore?
Steve Burden, a certified trainer, says that the main benefit of walking backwards is that it is more challenging to the body from a cardiovascular and metabolic standpoint than walking normally. “This makes it an effective way to build your cardiovascular system, without the kind of shock and strain associated with traditional activities that require you to move at a faster pace,” he explains. “It also offers a way to pack cardio into shorter sessions, as making your heart work harder means you won’t have to do the activity for as long to achieve the same results.”
Burden adds that another benefit of walking backwards is that you have to focus more and pay much more attention to what you’re doing, since you can’t see where you’re going. “This will help improve your coordination and give you better control over your body,” he says. This coordination work can bear fruit. Studies show that walking backwards can also improve your balance. And, compared to walking forward, walking backwards places different stresses and demands on the muscles and joints of the lower body, helping build strength and reducing overuse injuries.
What are the physiological differences between walking forwards and backwards?
In addition to looking and feeling different, “the muscle activation is slightly different when walking backwards, as you’ll be using your hamstrings and tibialis anterior (shin) much more than normal, and your quads and calves much less,” he says. Burden.
He explains that these differences are not only due to the fact that your legs are extended backwards instead of forwards, but also because you are landing on a different part of your foot. According to Burden, this is the most important thing to focus on when you start walking backwards.
Way tips for walking backwards
“Every time you take a step back, you should place your toes on the ground before your heel, as opposed to walking forward,” advises Burden. “Not only does this ensure that all the necessary muscles are sufficiently activated, but it also prevents excessive impact from going through the heel, which can damage joints and even jar the spine.”
Second, Burden says you should focus on walking backwards with a balanced stride, even strides, and a smooth stride. Try to pace yourself with your stride, just like you do when walking forward because this will help you keep your balance and keep a good rhythm.
Finally, he says that you should pay attention to your posture. “A lot of people will slouch or twist to try to see where they’re going,” says Burden. “Make sure you stay upright, quickly looking over your shoulder if necessary, so your muscles and joints stay in proper alignment.”
The safest way to walk backwards
Although the TikTok trend may only show people excited about walking backwards on a treadmill, you can certainly walk backwards on normal ground. However, it can be more challenging and less secure.
“It’s physiologically easier to walk backwards on a treadmill than on normal ground because you won’t have to push yourself backwards, as the ground moves for you,” explains Burden. “It also has the advantage that you stay in one place, so you don’t have to worry about bumping into people and objects. This is particularly important when walking backwards, as you won’t have to constantly try to see what’s behind you.”
Burden adds that many people like to walk on the treadmill because of the convenience of having workout stats like workout time, distance, and calories. He also offers the other main benefits of walking on a treadmill, like having less impact than a normal walk and ensuring you know exactly how fast you’re walking.
How to start walking backwards for exercise
Burden suggests that anyone who wants to try incorporating backward walking into their exercise routine should start by using a treadmill set to low speed so they can get used to the movement. He can use the arm rails for balance and won’t have to worry about bumping into things. As he gets used to the movement, he can increase the speed of the treadmill for his back-walking workouts.
“Once you feel confident, you can try walking backwards outside,” advises Burden. “At this point, you want to select a large, flat, quiet location, like an empty field, where you can once again start learning the intricacies of the new variation, without worrying about tripping or bumping into anyone or anything.” With that in mind, you’re ready to start putting your best foot back.