Just the other day while I was taking part in the Asics Fleet Pre-London Half Marathon I saw something that I’d never witnessed before.
At around the 6th km I saw a runner running backwards. I could see he was in some kind of pain and immediately thought that the act of running backwards was somehow relieving the pain.
About two days ago I came across a book written by Chris Cooper called, Long May You Run where one of the subjects he explores is the benefit of running backwards. This was an interesting coincidence and naturally my curiosity had was piqued so I decided to do some investigation.
The History Of Running Backwards
It turns out that running backwards or as it’s better known today; reverse running or retro running has been practised for thousands of years. In my research I have not been able to pinpoint whether it was originally the Japanese or the Chinese that pioneered this alternative form of running but one thing is clear – the physical benefit it provides.
You might or might not be surprised to know that retro running is well recognised across Europe and the UK, there’s even a movie about it, The Reverse Runner, filmed in Australia – imagine that! All of this is interesting but what we really want to know is; what are the benefits it provides us forward runners as a combined part of our weekly running routine?
That’s what I set out to discover…
Killer Cardio, Burns More Calories
Retro running will offer a powerful cardio workout for two main reasons; firstly, you are engaging more muscle groups and also large muscle groups like the quads. Secondly, in essence your cadence is increased because your feet hit the ground more quickly than regular running meaning you are expending more energy. Both of these will lead to the burning of more calories.
During running we use the same groups of muscles over and over this means that those muscle groups have an enormous amount of continuous stress placed on them causing over-use injuries. This should not put you off running but rather encourage you to include some retro running into your training.
Through backward running you will be reducing the strain of normal running by working the friction of the tissues in the opposite way. It seems more and more that this counter action is essential in restoring and maintaining a natural balance in the muscles of the lower body.
A Cure For Chronic Injury
With more than half of all runners being struck with running related injuries each year finding ways to naturally reduce the risk of injury is important for the sport and for all runners. Because retro running restores natural balance it explains why it is considered to be an excellent way to reduce the risk of forward running injury.
The most common injury among recreational runners is knee injury and some studies have cited that 1 in 5 runners suffer from some kind of knee injury. Retro running is a perfect alternative to running forward because it virtually eliminates impact at the knee joint while healing is taking place. It also strengthens the quads and knee joint over time.
But retro running is not only good for knee injuries; lower back pain, groin and hamstring strains as well as shin splints will respond well to the reduced impact offered by running backwards.
Develop Your Senses And Balance
Retro running is not a natural way of motion and while running backwards you are unable to rely entirely on your sense of sight. Over time this will mean your sense of hearing will improve and you will also learn to make use of your peripheral vision. Besides your sense improving, you will also experience better balance and your ability to sense your movement will improve.
A Natural Core Workout
We all know that to be an efficient runner you need to have good core strength and stability and let’s face it, doing core workouts are not always fun or even high on the list of things to do. But in reality doing it pays huge dividends in the end. With retro running the load is taken off the lower back and instead creates a natural workout for your core area.
Less Slouching And Improved Posture
As a runner I often find myself slouching and dropping my head during running when I am fatigued. With Retro running you will run with a more erect posture because your back is partially extended. Over time muscle memory will cause you to keep a firm posture without slouching when running forward.
A Psychological Boost
Running backwards is a change from the usual and in many ways this could be just what you need on your next long run to break the monotony and add some excitement to your run. Retro running can be especially fun for a laugh when you are out running in a group or with friends.
Things To Look Out For And How To Get Started
Pick A Safe Venue
Using a running track is ideal because there are painted lines so there’s less worry for you going off course. Running tracks are also free of the usual kind of debris.You can also try running on the beach or a sports field with soft grass, running uphill on a soft grassy surface is also a low risk option because when you fall (and in the beginning you will) you will have a shorter distance to the ground and less possibility of injury.No matter where you decide to do your retro running always walk the course first to make sure there are no obstacles.
Find A Buddy
Running with a friend is easier when you’re going forward and it’s no different when you’re running backwards.A friend can assist in keeping you on track and help you to avoid obstacles. You can make turns to run backwards – it’s exactly the same as any other running session.
Adding any new running sessions to your training requires that you start off slowly and retro running is no exception.Practicing to run 50m backwards is enough to start with and once you have mastered that you can slowly increase the distance ensuring that you master it before increasing again.
As you can see there are multiple benefits to retro running and adding a session or two to your weekly running routine will reduce stress on your body and help to correct poor form and create muscle memory to facilitate good biomechanics.
Since discovering this two days ago I have been practising retro running in the back yard on the grass and have noticed there is absolutely no strain on my shins – which I have been resting since my half marathon. I haven’t been wearing my HRM because I’m too lazy but I have found that doing a few laps surprisingly does get my heart rate up much quicker that I thought it would.