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The Benefits of Walking Backward

March 11, 2024

Reverse walking on a treadmill

While social media might lead you to believe reverse walking is the latest fitness trend, the practice has been used in physical therapy clinics over the last decade. In addition to adding some novelty to your workout, studies have shown that walking backward just a few minutes each week can help improve your balance, strength and flexibility.

“Walking backward can be beneficial for anyone. Whether you’re an injured athlete or a senior with joint pain, some real benefits can come from this simple activity,” says Kristyn Holc, physical therapist at Atlantic Sports Health Physical Therapy. “While it’s not typically something people do long term, it’s something different to try and it might help resolve some of your joint pain.”

Build strength and flexibility

These days many people spend their time sitting at a desk. While seated, your knees are angled so that the muscles at the front of your hip are in a short and tight position.

“When you stand up to walk, the movement stretches out the front of your hip,” says Holc. “Walking backward provides an even greater stretch.”

The added stretch is especially helpful for people who struggle with pain that keeps them from fully extending or straightening their knees. Holc explains that reverse walking is also a great way to engage your glutes, in addition to providing hip extension and strengthening your quadriceps, which is great for knee stability and joint control.

Reduce pain and improve balance

Reverse walking changes your gait mechanics by offloading weight from the inside of your knee. This can reduce pressure on your joints and ease pain caused by osteoarthritis or injuries.

“In addition to joint pain, balance and fall prevention are things we also need to be concerned about as we age,” says Holc. “Reverse walking can be especially helpful for seniors who are focused on injury prevention as well as building strength and stamina.”

Because walking backward also changes your center of gravity, it can improve your balance. Three systems work together to help us maintain our balance:

  • Vision, or what you can see
  • Proprioception, or information that comes through your muscles and joints
  • Vestibular system, or what you sense from your inner ear

Walking backward helps improve your balance because when one of these senses is removed the other systems must work harder to compensate.

Safely walking backward

While there are many proven benefits to walking backward, Holc stresses that you must take a few precautions to ensure you don’t end up hurting yourself.

“The only place you should try walking backward is on a treadmill. This is so you have something to hold on to and, especially at first, it’s important to have someone to supervise you,” she says. “Please don’t try reverse walking outside where you could stumble off a curb, trip on a rock or run into someone or something.”

Studies have shown that people see the greatest benefits from reverse walking three times per week, and about 10 minutes each time seems best. Starting slow at about one-half mile per hour is appropriate for most people and abilities.

“There are a lot of great benefits from walking backward, and it can benefit anyone at any age,” says Holc. “However, if you are concerned with your balance or have a history of falls, don’t do this without clearance from your medical provider.”

  • Healthy Living