A simple training technique with many benefits: running backward

There’s a little bit of science supporting the benefits of backward running, also known as retro running or reverse running. Not a ton of science but just enough for me to recommend that you give this some consideration in your training, regardless of sport. You’d use backward running occasionally to change up your typical training routine. Kids are naturally better at running backward than adults, so don’t be surprised if your younger athletes take to it more smoothly.

Here are some possible benefits of backward running:

Help rehab injuries. Backward running can be an effective strategy as part of recovery from lower extremity and spine injuries. Muscle firing patterns are very different in backward vs. forward running, creating more of a “soft landing hard takeoff” which can be useful to reduce joint loads. This study showed reduced knee cap compressive forces with backward running, which can be helpful for athletes with knee cap tracking issues, patellar tendonitis, or Osgood-Schlatter syndrome.

Improve muscular balance and efficient body fat reduction. Backward running is an effective means to strengthening the opposing muscles groups used in forward running and helps to balance your quad-to-hamstring strength ratio. This study of college aged women showed greater fat loss in backwards vs forward running training programs.

Improves coordination especially for defensive positioning. Many sports require defending an opponent while rapidly moving backward. Training with backward running can improve in-game performance.

Adds variety to your training. Backward running, cariocas, skips, bounds, and lateral shuffles will all add variety to your typical training which just feels good to do! And you only need a small amount to go a long way. Incorporating a few minutes of backward running into your normal running routine can spice up your runs, add a little variety, and burn more calories too. It’s like learning to run like a kid again and the challenge keeps your mind fresh and motivated.

One word of caution that I hope is obvious: it’s hard to see where you’re going when running backward so be careful where you do this!

It’s best to learn to run backward on a track, an open field, or a treadmill. You’ll be surprised at just how challenging it is, and starting slowly is key. You might start by adding two to four 30-second intervals of backward running at the end of your easy runs, or coaches can use backward running as part of your pre-training warmup.

As you progress, you can lengthen the time of each interval, add more intervals, and even incorporate them into your runs just like a speed work.

Key Points:
• Backward running can be used in training, with several benefits.
• Forces across the kneecap are reduced compared to forward running, this backward running can be a useful tool for athletes with pain in the front of the knee.
• Backward running can also improve in-game performance in many sports.

(Dr. Dev Mishra is in private practice at the Institute for Joint Restoration in Menlo Park, California, and Medical Director of Apeiron Life. He is the creator of the online injury management course and the Good to Go injury assessment App for coaches, managers, parents and players. This article first appeared in the Youth Soccer Insider in 2017 and has been one of our most popular).

3 comments about "A simple training technique with many benefits: running backward".
  1. James Madison, January 27, 2021 at 3:05 p.m.

    Muscle balance reduces the risk of hamstring pulls.  Running backwards, like walking backwards, also improves balance.

  2. Wooden Ships replied, January 27, 2021 at 9:40 p.m.

    True James. Did this as a player in the 60's thru the 80's, as well as my coaching days. 

  3. Randy Vogt, January 28, 2021 at 6:20 a.m.

    Backward running is essential for a referee's cardiovascular training. Many times an official, ref and AR, has to run backwards during the game in the effort to continue to watch the players and ball while keeping position. Two examples are a ref watching the GK with ball while running backwards for the anticipated landing spot of a punt and an AR running backwards to stay parallel to second-to-last defender while watching ball and players near touchline.

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