Why You Should Run Backwards

Why You Should Run Backwards

I am not much of a runner, although I have done two organized half marathons on very little training just to say I completed one (I basically ran a full marathon if I did two halves, right?). The first half marathon was in Montreal, a short distance away from my hometown, and the second in Iceland, because why not? Since then, I have done very little running, but I am sure I will find the motivation to put rubber to asphalt again someday. Back to the point…

I recently ran 5 km backwards while on vacation in Florida. Why, you might ask, would I do such a thing, especially while on vacation? Truth be told, I lost yet another fitness bet. My brother completed 2,020 pushups in under 7 hours to win his portion of the bet, and the punishment was for my father and I to run 5 km backwards. Sounds funny, right? It was a funny idea but wasn’t so funny when we spent 55 minutes on a Wednesday afternoon in the hot Florida sun running backwards. 

I figured since I had recently completed a 5 km run (3.1 miles) backwards, I may as well look into the benefits of running backwards to turn this into a positive experience instead of just focusing on the negatives (how badly my calf muscles ached for DAYS). Here is what I found after briefing myself on several running/alternative training websites as the most beneficial reasons to go for a backwards run:

  1. It’s a lot harder. This is actually my own opinion on the matter, and I do consider the fact that it is much harder a benefit. Not only is it much more physically demanding to run backwards for almost an hour, but it is also mentally exhausting. You have to be laser-focused on the task at hand so you don’t run into something, trip and fall, etc. 
  2. Keeps things interesting. Running on its own can get boring pretty fast, as can other routine training, so why not mix things up, grab a friend and take a backwards stroll. Maybe start off with small distances or even a minute or two backwards a few times throughout your regular run to start, or just jump right into the full hour!
  3. Muscular balance. For those of you who run as the main/only form of training, reversing your direction can help balance your leg muscles to keep you from getting overly dominant hamstrings. Backwards running places a greater emphasis on your quads compared to running forward. 
  4. Good for posture. Many people slouch forward slightly when they run, so mixing in some backwards training will force you to fix those postural mistakes, and hopefully that will translate to better posture all day long.
  5. Easier on the knees. I know that when I first start running again, I get bad knee pain. I actually went for a short run early March prior to my vacation and hobbled in the last ten minutes because of an overly tight IT band causing knee pain in both knees. A few weeks later, running backwards did not have the same effect and the stress from impact was much lower.
  6. Hell of a calf burner! There aren’t many exercises you can do to burn your calf muscles quite like running backwards. Again, I suggest you ease into it because like anything new, you are going to be sore. I hurt for 5 days after that run and wouldn’t wish it upon anyone. Except maybe my brother, because he is the reason I had to do this in the first place. 

Going into my last fitness bet I had no intention of losing, because I truly had no interest in running backwards (and I also hate losing). After giving it a whirl, I can honestly say I can see myself mixing it into my training going forward when the weather gets nice and we start hitting the pavement again. But for now, I’ll stick with weight training in the garage, frontwards.

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