IIf you spend a lot of time browsing TikTok, chances are you’ve noticed the trend of people walking backwards lately. Apart from looking a bit odd, is there any reason for this switch? Is the good old-fashioned advance not enough anymore?
Steve Burden, a certified trainer, says the main benefit of walking backwards is that it’s more cardiovascular and metabolically challenging to the body than normal walking. “This makes it an effective way to develop your cardiovascular system, without the kind of impact and strain associated with traditional activities that require you to move faster,” he explains. “It also offers a way to fit cardio into shorter sessions, because making your heart work harder means you don’t have to do the activity as long to achieve the same results.”
The added burden that another benefit of walking backwards is that you have to focus more and pay more attention to what you’re doing, because you can’t see where you’re going. “It will help to improve your coordination and gives you better control over your body,” he says. Coordination work can pay off. Studies show walking backwards can increase your balance as well. And, compared to walking forward, walking backwards places different stresses and demands on muscles and joints in the lower body, helping to build strength and reduce overuse injuries.
What is the physiological difference between walking forward and backward?
Besides looking and feeling different, “the muscle activation is slightly different when walking backwards, because you’ll be using your hamstrings and tibialis anterior (shinbone) more than usual, and your quads and calves much less,” says Loads.
He explains that this difference is due not only to the fact that your feet reach behind you instead of in front, but also because you land on different parts of your feet. According to Burden, this is the most important thing you should focus on when you start walking backwards.
Tip shape for walking backwards
“Every time you take a step back, you want to put your toes on the ground before your heels, in the opposite way you would when you walked forward,” advises Burden. “This not only ensures all the necessary muscles are adequately activated, but it also stops too much impact from your heels, which can damage your joints and even rattle your spine.”
Second, Burden says you should focus on walking backwards with a balanced gait, equal stride, and a smooth stride. Try to get into a rhythm with your stride, as you would when walking forward as this will help you maintain balance and maintain a good pace.
Finally, he says you need to pay attention to your posture. “A lot of people will bend over or twist to try and see where they’re going,” Burden said. “Make sure to stand up straight, glancing over your shoulder, if necessary, so that the muscles and joints stay in the correct position.”
The safest way to walk backwards
While the TikTok trend may only show people who are passionate about walking backwards on a treadmill, you can definitely walk backwards on regular dirt. However, it may be more challenging and less secure.
“It’s physiologically easier to walk backwards on a treadmill, than on normal ground because you don’t have to push yourself backwards, because the ground is moving instead of 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 especially important when walking backwards, because you don’t have to keep trying to see what’s behind you.”
Weights adds that many people like to walk on a treadmill because of the convenience of having your workout stats like your workout time, distance and calories. It also offers other major treadmill walking benefitssuch as causing less impact than regular walking and making sure you know exactly how fast you are walking.
How to start walking backwards for exercise
Weights suggests that anyone who wants to try to incorporate walking backwards into their workout routine should start on a treadmill set at a slow pace so you can get used to the movement. You can use the arm rails for balance and not have to worry about bumping into something. As you get used to this movement, you can increase the speed of the treadmill for your backward walking workout.
“Once you have complete confidence, you can try walking backwards outside,” advises Burden. “At this point you want to pick a large, flat, quiet location, like an empty field, where you can again start learning the ins and outs of a new variation, without worrying about tripping over or bumping into anyone or anything.” With that in mind, you’re ready to start putting your best foot back.