Backwards Running: New Crazy Trend Provides Insane Benefits
Fitness and wellness writer Peta Bee details, ‘It’s a breezy afternoon in a local park and my attempts at fitness are heading in the wrong direction. Bemused onlookers can’t help but take a second glance as backwards running expert, Karl Twomey, and I trot past them in reverse. We pick up speed as I become more adept in the technical aspects of a most unexpected workout trend.’ Yes, that’s right, backwards running. According to enthusiasts, the advantages this new trend has to your wellbeing are endless, providing you with the benefits of regular running but burning 20% more calories that running forwards. Plus, that’s so mainstream.
You may have had one of those moments where, when walking uphill, you turn around and go backwards for a few steps to ease the pressure on your knees. Much in the same way, this is how Twomey took up reverse running. Back in 2010, Twomey started running backwards as part of his marathon training because it was less harmful to his joint wellness. However, this wasn’t just a clever training technique – Twomey actually ran the whole marathon backwards in four hours and 16 minutes, with no injuries whatsoever. Twomey explains, ‘Your balance improves and so does your peripheral vision and even your hearing as you become more attuned to what’s happening around you. It also gives you incredibly well-toned calf and thigh muscles, but it doesn’t strain the Achilles tendon like regular running.’
However, Bee notes, ‘Despite its current fashionable status, reverse running is not new. It first emerged in the 70s, when a small group of sports doctors began recommending it to injured athletes and footballers. Since then, it has become an essential part of training in sports as diverse as boxing and hockey. Physiotherapists approve because running backwards entails less movement of the hips, reducing impact on the joints. It is often recommended for rehabilitation from knee and back problems.’ In fact, in a weird way, backwards running is like a fast-forward route to better wellness. Researchers at the University of Oregon have found that running in reverse means you only need to move at 80% of the speed of forward runners to gain the same physiological and fitness benefits.
Another study, this time from South Africa’s Stellenbosch University, looked at the effects of reverse running in a group of beginners. The researchers found that running backwards helped to streamline participants’ physiques while also improving their cardiovascular fitness. This research was undertaken on a group female students who were put on a reverse running programme, and compared with a group who stuck to their regular activity schedule. The retro-runners were found to have significant decreases in oxygen consumption, meaning they had become aerobically fitter and had lost an average of 2.5% of body fat.
Still, the advantages of backwards running don’t end there, says reverse running guru James Bamber. ‘Because you land and push off from the forefoot, your toes are strengthened, which aids good posture,’ he comments. According to Bamber, if you were to run one lap of an athletics track backwards, this would provide the fitness equivalent of running four to six laps forwards. In other words, 100 steps in reverse produces the same benefits as 1000 steps straight ahead – the same benefits but 10% of the effort? Surely there are no drawbacks to that! However, the obvious downside to running backwards is you can’t see where you’re going, which requires more mental focus. Twomey admits, ‘You can’t switch off. It’s more mentally exhausting than that meditative zone you can hit running forwards.’ However, he adds, ‘Other runners look at you as if you are mad, and then you spot them a few minutes later having a go at it themselves. It’s addictive.’