Backward Running: An Up-and-Coming Form of Exercise

Carly Scher

You decide to take a run on the track one bright, sunny day, and as soon as you start, you find that someone is running not too far from you in an adjacent lane. However, there is something strange here, because as you approach this person you find that you can see their face, yet they are moving in the same direction. Is this person confused? Nope, he or she is running backwards! Yes, you read that correctly.

Backward running, also known as reverse or retro running, is a real thing. It is real AND it is beneficial. Science suggests that it enables people to avoid or recover from common injuries, burn extra calories, sharpen balance, and mix up their daily routine.

According to Giovanni Cavagna, a professor at the University of Milan who led a study comparing forward and backward running, reverse running can potentially “improve forward running by allowing greater and safer training.”

Backward running is particularly advantageous to runners with bad knees. A 2012 study found that it causes less impact to the front of the knees while also burning more calories at a given pace. Another study, involving active female college students who replaced their normal exercise with jogging backward for 15-45 minutes three times a week for six weeks, showed that they lost almost 2.5 percent of their body fat. Sounds pretty good to me!

Not only can it help you to lose weight, but it also aids in boosting balance.
In fact, backward walking is sometimes used as therapy for people with Parkinson’s and can potentially be used for older people with shaky balance. So, backward running would have the same, if not a better, effect.

Are you ready to start running in reverse yet? Before you put on your sneakers and plug in your iPod, there is one detrimental factor that hasn’t been considered–you can’t see where you’re going. Don’t worry though, this problem can be solved with the following suggestions!

  • Do your backward running on a track, that way you won’t risk running yourself into a car or falling down hills.
  • Grab some friends! Start a reverse running club, so you can help each other out by running side by side with one person facing forward to keep the group out of harm’s way. You can take turns being the “forward friend.”
  • Start slow. Don’t run a backwards marathon your first time out–you’ll be taking ice baths for days. Work retro running into your routine, increasing more and more each time, to give your muscles a chance to adjust and avoid fatigue and pain.

Are you prone to injury and want to strengthen your muscles? Do you fall over when standing on one leg and want to improve your balance? Perhaps you want to lose a couple of pounds. Or maybe you just want to spice up your exercise routine. Well, backward running could be the answer to your prayers!

Give it a try sometime and see what you think. Who knows, maybe one day you’ll even beat the backward five-kilometer race time record of 19:31. Now that’s impressive.