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The Benefits of Walking Backwards on the Treadmill

Yuri Elkaim, BPHE, CK, RHN


Walking backwards or jogging backwards on the treadmill works muscles in an entirely different way than walking forwards. Specifically, by walking backwards on the treadmill (especially on an incline) you engage the quad muscles (front of thigh) and calves to a great extent. Ideally, as with any type of treadmill workout your goal is walk the hands off of the side rails for best results.


Walking Backwards on the Treadmill Helps You...

Engage your postural muscles to much greater degree. They are forced to take serious action. So are your legs, hips and the muscles that control your ankles. That’s why walking backwards at faster speeds, without holding on, will condition your hip, knee, and ankle stabilizers for added benefit to your daily tasks and sporting endeavours. One of these benefits is an improvement in your proprioception or balance.


It's Important to Start Slow

Anyone with 2 healthy legs—and this includes older people, large people, and people who are new to exercise—can walk backwards without holding on. The key is to work at a pace that is initially comfortable for you to allow you to get used to the novel motion. Don't be a hero right off the bat. Start slow and build from there.


Walking Backwards Variations

Backwards Walking With Incline: Walking backwards with an incline is something else! When working on the treadmill I add this into all of my warm-ups. Sometimes, I'll even grab some hand weights and power walk while really focuses on driving and pushing forcefully off each leg.

Try this: set the incline at 15 percent and 2 mph, assuming that you are adjusted to walking backwards level without holding on. You will soon feel a nice burn in your thighs. If you can go faster, do that for an intense thigh burn.

Now, if you can’t last longer than a few minutes, that’s perfectly fine. Do brief intervals at 15 percent/2 to 3 mph, alternating with walking forward with a lower incline (or level) for a few minutes, back and forth, for 30 minutes.Incline low-walk: As you walk, lower your center of gravity so that you’re in a one-quarter squat position. Keep your back straight! Do not pitch forward! This will intensify the fire in your quadriceps muscles.


Interval Training

You needn’t spend a whole lot of time walking backwards to reap benefits. So if you prefer to do a one-minute interval here and there of these creative uses of a treadmill, that will surely contribute to your fitness goals. Even if you're a runner training for a race give a couple of these "power-building" backwards workouts a try. I guarantee that in just a few minutes your thighs will be burning like never before! Just watch what it will do for you runs.


Hooper TL, Dunn DM, Props JE, Bruce BA, Sawyer SF, Daniel JA. "The effects of graded forward and backward walking on heart rate and oxygen consumption." J Orthop Sports Phys Ther. 2004 Feb;34(2):65-71.


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