If you have been paying attention to the latest fitness trends on Instagram, Youtube, and TikTok you will see people walking backwards on a treadmill. The kneesovertoesguy (Ben Patrick) on Instagram describes it as one of the keys to longevity and knee health.
Unlike many other fitness fads, I believe backward walking actually has some scientific backing and merit.
Here we will discuss the groups of people that would most benefit from backward walking as well as a guide to get you started on this great exercise.
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Benefits Of Walking Backwards
Under normal human conditions, your quadriceps muscles and hip flexors (front of your leg) work to push your leg forward while walking forward. Meanwhile, your hamstrings and glutes (back of your leg) work to slow your leg down as it swings forward.
The result of these mechanisms is that you are able to walk forwards in a smooth and coordinated motion.
The trouble arises with modern human lifestyles. With many people being increasingly sedentary, muscles that should be getting stretched every day become increasingly tight. Your glutes and hamstrings in particular will severely tighten if you spend most of your day sitting.
As time goes on, these muscular imbalances will result in pain. Specifically, knee pain.
You can think of walking backwards on a treadmill as a therapy for this modern problem. By walking backwards, you are working for the same muscle groups as forward walking but flipping their roles. It is now your hamstrings and glutes propelling you while your quads and hip flexors slow your leg down.
A 2019 study found that backward walking was effective at reducing knee pain while also increasing overall balance and stability. This makes lots of sense when you consider the biomechanics that we just outlined here.
Who Should Walk Backwards?
Generally, I think that everyone could stand to benefit from some backward walking, but these two groups, in particular, that would benefit the most.
Even if you have only been through high school or college level sports, knee pain is extremely common among athletes. Soccer, football, basketball, and baseball are all commonly associated with knee injuries.
While many may suspect that they will simply have to deal with knee pain for the rest of their lives, the truth is that there exist real ways to alleviate the discomfort. Walking backwards should be in the routine of any athlete who has suffered a knee injury.
If your job requires you to be seated for the majority of your day, I would heavily recommend reverse walking. It is one of the simplest ways to counteract the poor side effects of a sedentary lifestyle.
How To Walk Backwards On A Treadmill
The movement can be a bit unnatural, so you will want to start out nice and slow to get some practice.
How To Safely Walk Backwards
Make sure your footwear is secured properly and get on the treadmill. Set the treadmill to a slow speed. I recommend starting out at 1 MPH.
Turn around and begin to walk backward. You can use the side rails if you need to, but balance should not really be an issue at this low speed. Do not really focus too much on your arms. You should be focusing on your footwork.
As you walk backwards, every step should have a level of intent and precision. You should really be trying to feel your quads as you take each step. The more you do this exercise, the more you will develop a mind-body connection.
As you get more comfortable, feel free to up the speed or incline as needed. A slight incline can feel great on your legs.
What Else Can I Do For My Knee Pain?
Knee pain can be rooted in some very serious conditions such as knee osteoarthritis. While backwards walking is excellent, there are also some other steps you can take to try to minimize your knee pain:
Consult With A Physical Therapist
Seeing a specialist is never a bad idea. They can take a closer look at you and assign a specific program to get you in optimal condition. Physical therapy is worth the time and money if you can afford it.
Strength Your Legs
It is often stated that knee pain is the result of weak quadriceps muscle strength. There are many exercises you can do to improve quad strength. Here are a few of my favorites:
Any Knee Extension (Think Leg Extension Machine)
Consider doing a quick mobility routine a few times a week. There are plenty of guides on Youtube, and they take a few minutes at most.
Walking backward, and backward treadmill walking in particular is a great addition to any fitness program.
It is one of the few very beneficial exercises that does not require much technique or practice to get started. So go ahead on start walking backward!